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Why assume homeless people at a public event would be bad?

September 5, 2011
By Amy Bartholomew

An exchange between village Board of Trustees members Allie Pelletieri, John McEneany and Tom Catillaz is reported in "Village says no hobos at Hobofest" (Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Aug. 23). Pelletieri is reported to have been worried that Hobofest would bring hobos to Saranac Lake - a hobo being a "migratory unskilled workman, a professional idler, a tramp, a vagrant." He expressed concern that this wouldn't fit with the village's master plan and that they - hobos - wouldn't have any place to stay. Pelletieri was reassured by Catillaz that there would not be any real hobos there, that it would be a "cool" music festival, and happily, the trustees unanimously approved the resolution, paving the way for the festival. Catillaz is to be commended, of course, for addressing Pelletieri's objections. But, in doing so, Catillaz said, "There's no homeless people there. (Rather) They are people that you see every day."

What sort of attitude does Pelletieri's worry and this reassurance that there would be no homeless persons at Hobofest display toward the homeless and near homeless people living in and around our community? Does Catillaz think there are no homeless people in Saranac Lake or in the Adirondacks in general? Does he really think we don't see homeless persons every day? Or that there is some way to determine by sight who is and who is not homeless? Do the trustees, for some unstated reason, think there are homeless persons but they won't be at Hobofest? They certainly seem to imply there SHOULD be no homeless people there.

What is homelessness, and who are "the homeless"? Do the homeless include some of our neighbors in places like Keene, Jay and AuSable Forks today, in the wake of Hurricane Irene? Would they not be welcomed by the trustees at Hobofest?

As Saranac Lake positions itself as a national retreat and reintegration center for veterans, many with PTSD, the trustees should also reflect on the fact that, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, around one-third of the adult homeless population in the United States are veterans, many with PTSD and other mental challenges. Would the trustees not welcome homeless veterans to Hobofest?

Of course, it's not just veterans or victims of hurricanes who may be homeless. We are in the midst of a great recession, and the North Country is particularly hard hit. For the trustees to be worried about the presence of "homeless people" at Hobofest seems, at best, inattentive to this reality, as well. And this is especially ironic since, according to its organizers, the festival will feature Depression-era music. But this isn't just about Hobofest. What do the trustees' statements reveal about their attitude toward, and concern for, the circumstances and the real needs of those struggling in our community?

I suggest these trustees should consider the current draft update of the village comprehensive plan (available at: www.saranaclakeny.gov/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={04159BA1-2FFD-40A9-A6D2-1DF2B0B2EB2B). It emphasizes that one of the "core values of the residents of Saranac Lake" is to build up the "sense of community": "The tight fabric of the community should be expressed through both social and physical networks." The trustees' comments contradict this goal. Taking it seriously would require a fundamental transformation of attitudes, emphasizing solidarity rather than casual thoughtlessness, developing a much deeper understanding of homelessness and vulnerability to crisis - whether ecological, economic or social - and addressing how the village can meet the real social and material needs of ALL its residents through a far more inclusive "sense of community" than has been displayed by them with respect to Hobofest. I hope the trustees attended the festival. It was free, and maybe they will have heard Woody Guthrie's folk classic, "This Land is Your Land."

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Amy Bartholomew lives in Saranac Lake.

 
 

 

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