Saturday, April 12, 2008

HOPE.. Tampa tribune

Let No Man Put These Promises Asunder

The Tampa Tribune
April 11, 2008

It reminded me more of a shotgun wedding. There were commissioners Mark Sharpe and Kevin White, standing up front at the Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church in front of just over a thousand people. Someone with a large board was off to the side and a preacher grilled the two commissioners. "Do you promise to work to get a county identification program?" was the first demand. Sharpe and White looked at the multitude and there was no way they were going to say anything but "yes," which was then checked off on the board.
The next demand was to advocate for a voice-mail system for the homeless so they can respond to job offers and the two again said "yes," to the applause from the audience.
It was certainly a change from what happens down at County Center, where the commissioners act as lords of the realm and sit above the multitude and tell them how long they can speak or whether they can speak at all. Here you had to give credit to Sharpe and White, who at least had the chutzpa to show up.
The event was put on by something called HOPE, the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality, a collection of religious groups with the stated mission of identifying community problems and engaging public officials to demand solutions.

From Quakers To Muslims

I'm not much for groups with cute acronyms for names, especially ones that go marching off into the night with little sense of whose yard they are marching over or whose money they are spending.
But it was hard to deny that here, on a weeknight in Tampa at 7 p.m., just as most Tampa residents were settling down to watch "Wheel of Fortune" on the tube, more than a thousand citizens were packing this north Tampa church to argue for social justice in Hillsborough County.
And it wasn't just that it was a thousand people. You can get that many at a high school baseball game. It was who they were.

They represented churches from a broad-based section of Hillsborough County, and included Methodists, Quakers, Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and Muslims.

Father Desmond Daly from Christ the King Catholic, a huge South Tampa parish, led off the meeting, although he sounded more like a Baptist preacher as he fired up the crowd by demanding they tell him why they were here. "Justice!" they responded on cue.

Finding Solutions With Teeth

There was testimony from the homeless, including Erica Edmonson, a young woman I found living in a car with her mother at a mall several months ago. They have since found shelter at a place called New Beginnings, but the young woman is in constant pain with no insurance and serious dental problems that would cost thousands to repair. The county's health care plan does not cover her problems.
There are solutions. Commissioner Sharpe left the meeting seeming a little surprised that the woman could not find relief and said it probably was available if the right connections were made.
And if organizations like HOPE have value, and I think they do, it is in demanding those connections be made in a complex and bureaucratic world, where it is so difficult to recover once you have become a nonperson with no identification and few resources.

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