Wednesday, December 29, 2010

29 DEC 10: One Out of Five

If you want a reality check first thing in the morning, there's nothing like waking up to someone talking about homelessness. While you're in bed. In a home with heat - even if you have to spend a few shivering moments verifying it

BLOGGER BEGGAR #7: A radio interview about Columbus homelessness Tuesday reminded me of a recent racquetball workout in Benning Park. As I whacked the ball, a group of five young people walked by. I'm not calling it a "gang" because none of them carried a can of spray paint.

"Can I have a dollar to get something to drink?" a young man in the group asked.

I could do better than that. I happened to take a bottle of water to the court -- a much more effective way to share liquid assets.

I hurried to courtside, grabbed the bottle and ran outside the fence to the group of five. I somehow don't think the young people expected this. But if they expected me to give one member of the group a dollar, they were wrong. After all, I've received plenty of e-mails here about local inequality.

As the young man drank from my water bottle, others in the group suddenly had questions. I went outside to exercise, and a news conference broke out....

"Do you play here often?" one person asked. Maybe once or twice a week.

"Are you a firefighter?" a young woman asked. I stood across the driveway from a fire station -- but no. A firefighter probably would have pointed the group toward a hydrant.

"Why are you talking so fast?" Because the woman asked her question before I could finish answering the first one. At least that explanation allowed me to slow the pace down.

But the questioning wasn't over. "Can I have a dollar to get something to eat?" asked the young man who originally asked for water. Next time I need to bring a bottle with one of those fruit flavors.

Everyone stood by my car at this point, so regular blog readers probably know what happened next. I opened my trunk and gave the young man a "beggar bag" - a paper sack with a can of chicken Vienna sausage and a juice pouch inside. Another man in the group couldn't believe I'd thought ahead for this. But he didn't think to ask for one himself.

"Anything else?" I dared to ask the five young people. This opened myself to potential trouble. After all, one of them might have asked for a dollar to buy a used car.

The five young people had no other questions or requests, so they walked on toward Benning Drive -- and as they walked away, a thought occurred to me. Only one of the five asked for food or water. And he didn't share the water with the other four. The can of Vienna sausages might have been another story - especially quibbling over the two extras inside.

Why did only one of the five young people ask me for help? Had the other four befriended him as a stranger? Was he a spokesman for the group? Or were the other four well-off, leaving me as the only one who cared enough to share something?

As it happens, Shana Young with the Columbus State University Cunningham Center also has noticed a one-in-five trend. She told WDAK's "Viewpoint" Tuesday 20 percent of the homeless people in Columbus are "chronic homeless" - in a long-term situation due to addictions or a criminal record. But then again, aren't we all a little "addicted" to food and water?

Shana Young says in most cities, ten percent of the homeless people are "chronic homeless" - and they use 50 percent of a city's resources to fight homelessness. Columbus has double that percentage. So I'm a little surprised hundreds of other people haven't been moved to the Civic Center lobby to spend the last few nights.

Shana Young noted homeless people in Columbus have a hard time getting the assistance they need, because services are scattered across a wide area. I discovered that seven years ago, when I tried to help a man get an evening stay at The Salvation Army [18-19 Dec 03]. He wound up sleeping on my living room floor - perhaps with better food, but no hymn singing.

Shana Young led the effort to develop a ten-year plan for ending homelessness citywide. Columbus Council approved $50,000 this month to start the process. But with changing Council members and mayors with different agendas, it's hard to say if the goal will be reached by 2020 -- especially since nice potential downtown housing is about to become work space for starving Springer Opera House actors.

-> The winning number for us in poker Monday night was four. Find out why at our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

E-MAIL UPDATE: Speaking of finding something to eat, someone may be on the warpath against a Columbus restaurant....

Rumor has it that Golden Corral in Columbus will close for what they are saying "Remodeling" for several weeks after the first of the year,,

Wondering if anything has to do with the seriously low score from the health department a few weeks ago?

"That is false," a woman who answered the phone at Golden Corral told me Tuesday. The woman wouldn't tell me her name -- which shows you one difference between this restaurant and the ones which openly name their chefs.

But a check of Columbus Health Department records shows part of this e-mail is accurate. Golden Corral had inspection scores of 63 and 55 in recent weeks - improving to 94 only on a third check. When your food safety score is lower than high school basketball teams score, that isn't good.

The "unsatisfactory" score of 55 came 7 December, around the time Golden Corral was closed half-a-day. We were told that shutdown was due to a boiler problem [14 Dec] -- but now I wonder if it was the manager who blew a stack.

The news buffet Tuesday didn't offer much to chew on, but here goes....

+ Columbus tied a record, with a morning low of 23 degrees F. So how many of you have done what I used to do on these cold mornings and nights? There's no better time to clean out the freezer for defrosting.

+ The two new Muscogee County School Board members took the oath of office. Mark Cantrell told WTVM it was the biggest day of his life, besides his wedding day. This had to disappoint all those winners of St. Jude Dream Homes....

+ Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr announced what apparently is the biggest drug bust of the year. A WRBL reporter said there was so much marijuana displayed at the news conference that "the smell was unmistakable...." Hmmmm - how would she know that, exactly?

+ WTVM began a search for the heckler who welcomed Coach Gene Chizik to Auburn University two years ago, booing him and yelling: "Five and 19! Five and 19!" I'm more interested in knowing if those numbers are displayed on the sidelines, in signals to Cam Newton.

+ The University of Georgia athletic director revealed the Bulldog football team will play Ohio State - but not until 2020. Is it going to take THAT long to replace Mark Richt, and regain the respect of high school athletes?

+ Instant Message to everyone spreading bogus morbid rumors about the health of Aretha Franklin: C'mon, folks - R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

2010 IN REVIEW CON'D: The heat remained in Columbus during September - and in ways other than the temperature. Wayne Anthony went after Teresa Tomlinson's husband. An anonymous blogger started going after Tomlinson. And complaining critics came to this blog, as if Goodwill Industries executives were running for something.

Rep. Sanford Bishop was embarrassed in September by word he steered Congressional Black Caucus scholarships to his relatives. But looking back, it could have been worse. A "Sanford" in South Carolina might have diverted that money to women in Argentina.

Attorney Mark Shelnutt was arrested in September, less than a year after he was cleared in a federal trial. Yet no candidate ever brought up his donation to Teresa Tomlinson's campaign for mayor - and I don't think anyone checked to see if Shelnutt helped interview Tomlinson's office staff.

The star entertainment attraction in Columbus during September was rap artist Gucci Mane. I'm still waiting for the Civic Center to balance things out, and host a comeback concert by Tiffany.

Columbus radio had another shakeup in September, when "Boomer 95.3" was restored to its old position on the FM dial. Of course, that may have prompted fans of the old format to mutter, "Flip my Ride."

Then came October, and the election-year stretch run. Rep. Sanford Bishop handed out a $6.2 million check in Columbus -- while Wayne Anthony demanded to see every six-dollar check MidTown Inc. ever issued.

October saw signs of economic growth in the area. The Kia plant added a second shift, Columbus Technical College opened a new health sciences center, the Springer Opera House announced expansion plans - but printing counterfeit 20-dollar bills in a Columbus motel might have been a step too far.

But the "Phenix Pheud" continued in October, with the school Superintendent answering rather personal accusations by the mayor and city council. I'm still waiting for the District Attorney to announce which side was to blame for that sinkhole near the Phenix City Shoney's.

One overlooked trend in October was the rise of Islam in Columbus. The main library had "Come Meet a Muslim" night. The mayor proclaimed a special day for a mosque. But Fort Benning still hasn't launched the Middle Eastern Institute for Security Cooperation.

A new football tradition began at Fort Benning in October, with Third Brigade soldiers playing Columbus State in the Doughboy Classic. Who could have imagined a few weeks later, the alleged "dough boy" would be Auburn quarterback Cam Newton?

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author -- not necessarily those of anyone else in Columbus living or dead, and perhaps not even you.

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