Tuesday, November 20, 2007

America's Least Compassionate City

In determining which city did the least to help it's poor and downtrodden to get back on their feet, I used the same formula in which I came up with America's most compassionate city. And this city, America's least compassionate, should have a lot to answer for as it moves closer and closer to the national spotlight during this early primary season.

Manchester, New Hampshire is a city with a vibrant tone to it's day to day activities. The nightlife moves to a beat not unlike Boston, about fifty miles to the south. Tall buildings downtown, with pizza parlors on almost every corner give this place a uniquely North Eastern feel. The city becomes a hub for political activists every election cycle, as New Hampshire tries desperately to hold on to it's first in the nation status.

But this city has a dirty little secret. It's a secret they don't want anyone to talk about as that spotlight comes swinging back towards them with the approach of the primaries, and the candidates come to town, bringing with them the national and international media. This city has the worst record of all the cities that I researched in their treatment of their poor.

The main facility that the downtrodden must pass through to gain access to almost all other services in the city of Manchester is a dingy, depressing building called New Horizons, located not too far off of Elm street, the city's heart. On this dirty, filthy street is an abandoned building, New Horizons, and an auto mechanic shop. During most of the year, no one is allowed into the building until 3:15 in the afternoon, which is what time they serve dinner for people 50 years of age or older. An hour later it's the general public feeding, with workers barking out orders like concentration camp guards. Indeed, the only smiles you'll see during the entire experience are the ones on the faces of the church volunteers who are serving the meal, as those being served avoid eye contact with shelter workers for fear of being kicked out for perceived slights against the staff.

When it comes time to open the doors for night time check in at 6 p.m., all, men and women alike, line up in a stairway that goes to the third floor. After checking in, they may go back down to the dining hall, to play cards, read or go outside to smoke. But if you go outside, you may not re-enter until bed time, which is at 8 p.m. At 7:45 p.m., amidst general brow beating by the shelter staff, the men are hustled off to grab mats and blankets, and bring them back to the dining room, then the women go grab theirs and are hustled off to another floor to bed down for the night. At 8 p.m. or thereabouts, it's lights out, no talking, on the floor of this dirty building. But, if you are lucky enough to have a job, you can EARN your way to getting a bunk upstairs on the third floor. At 5:30 a.m., it's wake up time, a quick cup of coffee and a stale donut, and at 6 a.m., it's out the door. It doesn't matter that nothing really opens in the city of Manchester until at least 9, with most businesses not opening until 10, out they go into the day, with no where to go, at least not any more.

See, there used to be a little bar run by an old woman with a heart of gold, who made it her personal mission to give people a place to hang out until things started to open up. It was two blocks away from this nightmare 'shelter'. Yes, she sold cheap beer, but she also sold coffee for 25 cents and a cup of hot soup for 50 cents, and if you were broke, that was fine also, the homeless could just sit and hang out until the time was right to get moving along on the day.

The shelter managers hated this place, as did the police, the mayor, and the city council. How dare this woman give shelter to the very people they are encouraging to leave to town? So they made excuses, and before you knew it, Geoff's Place was shut down as 'a public nuisance.'

When temperatures drop below thirty degrees, the shelter opens it's doors during the day. Residents may sit in the basement, with all of their belongings, and attempt to sty warm as they are berated by staff for more perceived infractions. The 'health clinic' they have is so much of a farce, that most do not bother, as it consists of a nurse looking you over, pronouncing you healthy, and the next one comes through.

For women in Manchester, if you are homeless, have a job, and at least two hundred dollars in the bank, there is Angie's Place. No children allowed. No men allowed. Now, I don't know bout anyone else, but if you have a job, and two hundred dollars in the bank, it would seem to be rather hard to end up homeless. Maybe not. Another shelter that is barely a step up from New Horizons, the women are sheltered in cubicle type rooms, that afford very little privacy, but they do have much more freedom than those staying at the other. Thy can pretty much come and go as they please.

The area food bank is run out of New Horizons, with area residents lining up around the block on distribution days, only to leave there with about 2 days worth of food, consisting mainly of bread, cakes, and other junk foods. They can only use this service once a month, so they will wait until desperation takes hold to show up for a box. And although donations pour into the warehouse part of the building, only those who can show proof of a need, and a verifiable address are allowed in, and even then it's usually not worth the effort. A staff member, who clearly has more important things to do, will ask the person what exactly it is that's needed. Not allowing for the people being served to actually see what's in the warehouse, the staff member will go and try to find that specific item, and bring it back to the person. The item. In a warehouse full of items. That just sit there. Not being given to anyone, but sitting there.

The case managers are responsible at New Horizons for giving out referral slips to other agencies such as St. Vincent De Paul, where you can receive one pair of shoes, 2 shirts, one pair of pants, one hat, one pair of gloves, and if needed, one jacket. Most don't bother using this service any more, as it's placed too far away from downtown, and not worth the hassle.

For those suffering from mental health conditions, and if they are suicidal, there is the Greater Manchester Mental Health service, who runs a crisis center. This sham is another in the newest fad of turning away people who don't have insurance, even though they are reimbursed by the state. There was a case last year wherein a man sliced his wrists on a Tuesday, inside the facility, and was released on Wed., no longer considered a threat to himself. On Thursday, he committed suicide, but hey, the crisis center saved money, so all is well.

Even at the city run welfare office, (not to be confused with the state's welfare office, this is a mandated by law welfare office that every town in New Hampshire must have to take care of emergencies that may arise in people's lives), there is no help for the poor. State officials, having looked the other way for years, began to try to investigate the amount of people that were actually being helped by the city welfare office, but they kept getting blocked by Manchester Mayor Guinta, who said that Manchester takes care of it's own. The office was set up to house the homeless when the shelter was full, but doesn't. They are supposed to help people obtain subscription medicine, but they won't pay for most of them. They are supposed to help prevent evictions, utility shut offs, etc., but instead, after leaving people waiting in their tiny little office for hour after after, sometimes 9 or more hours, they usually come back with a referral to another agency, who will tell the person there is no money to help them. So, if this is the case, why are these charities or the welfare office open? Who is receiving the money there Mr. Guinta? Because according to official expenditure reports, almost all of the money given to the Manchester Welfare Office was handed out. It just wasn't handed out to those it was supposed to go to.

Lastly, although I could write about the deplorable treatment of the poor here forever, there is the little known fact that virtually all of Manchester's poor live in conditions that would have made Russians and all third world countries feel better about themselves. Rooming houses are as much a part of Manchester as is the Raddisson Hotel. Rents average about 150 dollars per week for one room, no bathroom, no kitchen. Some are in renovated houses, sectioned off into rooms, with sheet rock walls, while others are 4 and 5 story buildings with as many as 100 or more rooms to them. There is usually one bathroom per floor, with as many as 50 people sharing it. In most cases, there will be one communal kitchen for the entire building, which means that most people living in that building won't bother trying to cook, as waiting for an oven could mean hours, so instead opt for fast food and pizza.

This is the city that is show casing itself before the nation just in time for the elections. A city that could care less if their poor have food, shelter, or other basic life necessities. What I'm pointing out is that we are programmed to believe certain things about certain areas of the country, but that doesn't make them true. Everyone sees the Northeast as a bastion of bleeding heart liberalism, and that is just not the case. In running this little research program, the conclusion can actually be reached that it's the Midwest that has the most compassion for their fellow Americans in this country, based on how much help is available to the poor, the quality of that help available, and how that help is delivered.

Manchester should be ashamed of itself for the way they treat their downtrodden, and as far as first in the nation status, they should also add a category for worst city in America if you're poor, ahead even of New Orleans. Batmanchester


CaliDream said...

I think California should get to be first in the nation, since we have the most electoral votes.

JB12Xl said...

Someone should investigate that mayor and find out where the money went.