Chaos and Rage

I think your article on homelessness in Knoxville ["Street Life," by John Clendenon, Vol. 8, No. 18] was very misleading in that it told Knoxvillians what many wanted to hear: that homeless people are homeless because they chose that condition and not because we live in a society that is leaving groups of people out. John Clendenon focuses upon people whose actions did indeed contribute to their homeless condition. Some of the people showcased in the story would end up homeless if someone had given them a million dollars! Once again, I say that Mr. Clendenon is simply being a patsy in that he is presenting an image of the homeless that somehow confirms what some like to believe about the homeless: that they are simply lazy, addicted, etc.

Mr. Clendenon doesn't mention anything of honest, minimum-wage working people who temporarily end up on the streets because they are one paycheck away from disaster, veterans (statistically one-third of the homeless) who have had trouble readjusting to civilian life, or many others who are prone to becoming homeless. He doesn't do this because to do so would give uncomfortable thoughts to the power structure in Knoxville (both 'liberal' and 'conservative') that something is indeed wrong on the streets of Knoxville and in the United States of America. Instead of approaching homelessness as the social-economic condition that it is and creating a realistic network that can readily employ homeless people on some level, the choice is instead made to entwine it into a religious-moral equation whereby churches have the say in how we approach these conditions. Therefore, the 'sin' mechanism is often used to explain away unjust social conditions as the result of the individual, and 'the system' is left blameless. This just so happens to fit the way so many things are done in Bible belt, Southern-based Knoxville anyway.

I believe all of this will be answered in a larger context in the next century as the chaos and rage of our modern society continues to grow and the machine begins to break down. At that time, many Knoxvillians will discover that, despite living a luxurious life, that they too were a part of the homeless all along.

George Widener

Help and Understanding

Thank you for your recent article on homelessness. John Clendenon is an excellent writer and his personal experience adds a ring of truth to his story.

I would like to comment on the large number of homeless individuals who are mentally ill. We are all aware that in recent years the mental health facilities have fallen to the knife of budget cuts. Patient populations are down across the state and many of these mentally ill folks are released to the streets. Formerly regarded as too ill to live independently, they are now living without the benefit of psychiatric support. For individuals who do not have a family that can accept them into their homes, there are very few resources. We see these people daily at the Volunteer Ministry Center. I am concerned about the homeless; I am most concerned about people who live on the streets in the cloudy world of schizophrenia and whose medication has been stolen by a street person. I am concerned about those who hear voices that are not there or who are too paranoid to sleep inside a shelter and so seek rest in an unsafe boxcar. Many of these people are truly helpless, struggling to stay alive in a hostile world they cannot understand or relate to. They are ill. They are homeless. And while they may at times be perceived as dangerous, they are in danger themselves.

Mr. Clendenon did an excellent job of telling the story of those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol as well as those who are addicted to reliance upon others to meet their physical needs. I wanted to add this word about the most misunderstood segment of the homeless population—those who are mentally ill. They are the ones who are most deserving of our help and understanding.

Ginny Weatherstone
Executive Director
Volunteer Ministry Center