“Concentration moon, Over the camp in the valley, Concentration moon, Wish I was back in the alley with all of my friends, Still running free….” –Frank Zappa
I wish I could quote the whole song, but you’ll just have to go to YouTube and check out Absolutely Free by The Mothers of Invention, which would be guaranteed time well spent. I’ll give you a start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TePRNGdMPIw
The idea of camps for the homeless instantly brings associations with Andersonville, the notorious Confederate POW camp where nearly 13,000 people died; the Japanese-American internment camps that were built throughout the West Coast during WW II; and, of course, most infamously, the Nazi death camps where 6 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other non-Aryans were killed outright, worked to death or used as guinea pigs for hideous eugenic experiments. Allegedly, Hitler and his minions were inspired by our own solutions to confining prisoners and “suspect persons.” Words cannot fully describe such horrors. But Sgt. Major Robert Kellogg of the Union Army had this to say when he and his fellow prisoners entered the Andersonville Prison:
“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. “Can this be Hell?” “God protect us!” and all thought that he alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place.
In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings was more than we cared to think of just then.” So when Donald Trump proposes building camps for homeless people, those who have not forgotten their history can only react with horror and skepticism. Here’s his unedited words: “Ban urban camping wherever possible. Violators of these bans will be arrested. But they will be given the option to accept treatment and services if they are willing to be rehabilitated. Many of them don’t want that. We’ll give them the option. We’ll then open up large parcels of inexpensive land, bring in doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, and drug rehab specialists, and create tent cities where the homeless can be relocated and their problems identified. We’ll open up our cities again. Make them liveable, and make them beautiful.” Sure. And I know where there’s cheap land in Florida. And I also hear there’s a bridge in New York City for sale. Does anyone who freshly fallen off the turnip truck believe this BS? If so, God, I pity you.
Now–as much as it makes me want to regurgitate on this keyboard–I have to admit that some of what Orange Julius says is right. We do need more psychiatrists, doctors, social workers, and drug rehab specialists to help homeless people rise out of poverty, mental disorders, and drug addictions. As much as is being done on these fronts, much more needs to be done. And affordable housing–one of the banes of the Republicans–also needs to be a reality. For everyone, regardless of income or status. Rent gouging needs to be a thing of the past. But Fibbernacci isn’t the one who is going to do it. Oh, he’ll make promises up the yin-yang. That’s part of his brand. And what he is saying sounds good. But nothing about his past actions suggests that he gives a damn about anyone other than himself.
During the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, homeless people were gathered up and put in hastily-constructed tent cities outside the city limits so that visitors to our country would somehow maybe think we had solved the homeless problem. And as I write this, in Los Angeles, tent cities are being knocked down in an effort to eradicate urban blight. The new mayor of LA, Karen Bass, has said the people in those encampments will be housed, fed and otherwise cared for. I want to believe her.
As has been written elsewhere ad nauseam, the causes of homelessness and the solutions are complicated, messy, and expensive. But we are faced with this decision: Do we open our hearts and checkbooks to help the less fortunate? Or do we push them aside, sweep them under the rug, and try our damndest to make them go away? History awaits our answer. Let’s make damn sure it isn’t “Arbeit macht frei.”
Better days are coming… if we work for them.