Grijalva absent from discussion

By Danielle Rideau
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Talk focuses on homelessness

Rep. Raul Grijalva was absent from a panel discussion yesterday that urged students and community members to write letters to their congressmen about the country's problem with homelessness.

Grijalva was supposed to be the featured speaker at last night's town hall discussion on homelessness. He was expected to speak about what the government is doing about the country's issues with poverty and homelessness, but he didn't show up because of a "busy schedule," said moderator Rashad Kelly, a business management senior.

Some students and community members attended the discussion to see Grijalva, and felt let down when he ended up not coming.

"There was a lot of disappointment from the audience when he didn't show up. Students should be one of his priorities and it makes a statement for him not to come," said Blaire Stryker, a sociology senior.

Despite the congressman's absence, the panel still urged audience members to write letters to their representatives to ask them to become more involved in helping solve the problem of poverty in the U.S. The students in African American studies 255, African American Politics, hosted the town hall because they wanted to involve the community in some of the topics they are discussing in their class, said Erin Boles, one of the town hall's organizers. Michael McDonald, the Habitat for Humanity chief executive officer, said there are 26,000 people in Tucson who are homeless to some extent each year, and the Tucson branch of Habitat for Humanity tries to alleviate some of that by building 25 to 30 houses for homeless families each year.

He also told the audience that one in four children in Pima County live in poverty, and 40 percent of the people who are homeless are women and children.

McDonald urged community members to make themselves homeless for two days to see what the victims of poverty are really experiencing.

"If we participate in voluntary displacement, it will force us to really understand what they are going through," McDonald said. "We can only really tackle homelessness if we have a sense of solidarity."

Lynn Marcus, director of the immigration clinic, shifted the focus from how homelessness affects Tucson to how it is perceived on a national level.

She focused on how the media portrayed the victims of Hurricane Katrina as "refugees," instead of evacuees or victims.

"Technically they are not 'refugees' because they didn't choose to leave, or didn't flee their country from harm," Marcus said.

Marcus said the media has done a good job of putting a face on homelessness in other instances by reporting human-interest stories, and showing how much of a problem homelessness is in the U.S.

Homelessness is an issue within itself, but Wendy Theodore, an assistant professor of African American studies, said it is also an issue for black people.

As far as homelessness goes, "African-Americans are over-represented," Theodore said. "Thirty-eight percent of homeless people are black."

Deborah Whaley, an adjunct faculty member of Africana studies stressed that "race collides with class," and showed a clip of rap artist Kanye West saying, "George Bush doesn't care about black people," which made the lack of immediate hurricane relief efforts seem to be a race issue instead of a class issue.

Whaley suggested that problems with race result from problems with public policy, and there is a need for a national discussion on creating new public policy.

Theodore urged the audience to write to congressmen and representatives because when the financial aid ends, those 350,000 Katrina victims will be homeless because they won't have anywhere to go.

"We need to do other things to make sure this doesn't happen again," Whaley said.