Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Homelessness ... No Longer Hidden in Plain View

Congratulations to the Saratogian for receiving seven awards in the national Suburban Newspapers of America editorial contest. Of  particular interest to me is that Mareesa Nicosia’s series Hidden In Plain View: The Plight Of Saratoga Springs' Homeless, received first place in the investigative reporting category.

In the big cities, homelessness is part of the urban landscape, so it’s noticed and discussed. When I was a kid my family made frequent train trips to New York City (my mom was a champion bargain basement shopper!... probably why I’m vehemently shopping-averse.) I recall as a child walking out of Grand Central and seeing rows of homeless persons warming themselves along the walls of the building on street grates and wondering why they were always there. Adult always answered, “They have nowhere to live… that’s just part of city life.” During my first year of college at Georgetown, each day I passed Vietnam veterans living on the streets of D.C., who were unable to reintegrate after returning home from the war. Years later, I traveled to a conference in Denver. Our ‘Welcome to Denver’ packet identified a concern with panhandlers and homeless persons (warning not to engage them) and identified strategies the city was taking to address the ‘problem’. In urban areas, homelessness has been obvious for decades and is discussed openly. But often these discussions focus on safety concerns or tarnished public image… rather than concerns for the welfare of people who are forced to live on the street.

In suburban communities, homelessness is hidden. Homeless persons live under bridges, in wooded areas out of the way or “couch-surf” for temporary lodging as a way of life. Because we don’t daily, quite literally, walk past people sleeping on the street,  we don’t think much about homelessness. It’s just not consistent with our shared image of our community, which is very eloquently described on the Saratoga Chamber’s website:

“Saratoga's attractions have been drawing visitors for centuries.
But, increasingly, these visitors are coming to stay:
opening their businesses and raising their families here.
Choosing Quality of Life”

So kudos to the Saratogian and to reporter Mareesa Nicosia for having the courage to remind us that some individuals in our community don’t have that same quality of life. Indeed each day they  struggle for basic survival… sometimes living just out of sight of the restaurants where we dine on delectable meals and the shops on Broadway featuring the latest fashions. The courage to put a series about these members of our community on the front page of the newspaper is what I think makes Saratoga so special. We are, with good reason, proud of the history, the commerce and the attractions that make us such a popular tourist destination. But there’s also a strong value among Saratogians of caring; we have a passionate commitment to our society, to helping others and raising the quality of life for everyone locally and globally. Now that’s what I call community… and that’s the value of a community newspaper! Bravo to Mareesa… and to all the Saratogian staff who received national recognition for their work.

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