I wish I had a right to a job. I asked Governor Bush for a job and was referred to the state employment office.
"Artículo 9 - El Estado:... b) como Poder del pueblo, enservicio del propio pueblo, garantiza -- que no haya hombre o mujer, en condiciones de trabajar, que no tenga opportunidad de obtener un empleo con el cual pueda contribuir a los fines de la sociedad y a la satisfacción de sus propias necesidades.... Artículo 45. - El trabajo en la sociedad socialista es un derecho, un deber y un motivo de honor para cada ciudadano...." (1976 Constitution of Cuba with 1992 reforms)
The Right to Gainful Employment
People in the USA who are able to work generally believe they have a duty to work. President Bush, for example, preached the duty to work forty-hour weeks. But he did not match the duty to work with a right to a job.
Citizens of the United States do not have a right to a job if they are willing to work and cannot find a job in the "free" labor market. Indeed, the very idea of a right to a job is anathema to the current political leaders of our country. The power elite identify "democracy" with American-style corporate capitalism, a false-scarcity system that frees workers to be displaced persons if they are disobedient or cannot find a job. We often hear the refrain from the federal and state Democratic-Republican political cabinets of Big Business that good government cannot directly create job. Any suggestions to the contrary are denounced as contrary to the American Way.
Yet, in 1946, both red-blooded American presidential candidates called for job guarantees. In 1945 the House of Representatives passed the Full Employment Act, which would have provided a political right to regular, useful, remunerative, full-time work. The Bill was watered down when the politicians sold their consciences to the business lobby.
If an unemployed person cannot find work and depletes his or her savings today, he or she will wind up on the streets if there is no recourse to family, friends, or charity. And the prevailing business ideology of gilded individualism preached by Democratic-Republican politicians will assert that the person is at fault for his or her dire predicament and deserves the stigma attached to it.
Private and Public Employment Agencies
I have been seeking work in Miami for nearly a year. I prefer to look for jobs on my own, and I have obtained well paid, temporary engagements from time to time. However, I suffered a long, dry spell. When my savings dropped to two-month's living expenses, I turned to Robert Half International because of the stellar reputation it touts from its rooftops; for instance, the half-page advertisement that it runs, with the header, Robert Half, Our Reputation Speaks for Itself.
The RHI scene was far too corporate for me. RHI is management-oriented and is, at the same time, badly managed. After my file was repeatedly lost and I was shined on with the standard sales pitch whenever I followed up, I realized I did not exist as far as RHI was concerned, at least not to its Thirty Something staff. After examining RHI's advertisements in several markets, I began to suspect that some of its advertised listings were for nonexistent jobs; that is, false advertising designed to refresh a disappointed pool of job seekers. I began to wonder where the firm's reputation came from and whether it had been independently audited.
Forget Robert Half. I was on my own. No problem - except for a bad run of luck. I got very close to landing several good jobs despite my inability to speak Spanish - an annoying but not insurmountable issue in Miami - and my age - too old for Corporate, too young for Social Security. Since I found myself on the verge of being a displaced person in Miami - a city that used to be a poor man's paradise, but is becoming hell for the poor and a rich man's gentrified retreat. I was desperate enough to try anything, so I appealed to Governor Jeb Bush for work, hoping against hope that he had the power to get me hired wherever I might be useful. Not that I think I am better than the rest of the labor pool, but I believe it would be a national tragedy if someone like me could not find a good job in The Great Nation of Ours.
Of course Jeb Bush passed the buck downwards. He referred me to the virtually privatized state employment agency on Biscayne Boulevard, in the Edgewater "hood". And I'm glad he did; not because the staff are any more efficient and effective than RHI and the like, but because they are more labor-oriented or job-seeker oriented. Most importantly, they provide moral support and job-seeking tools on location.
My budget was such that I could not afford the bus fare every day to the hood and back, so I frequented the office in my own neighborhood: the South Florida Workforce Innovation Miami Beach One-Stop Center at the South Beach Hispanic Community Center. The sign over the front desk read:
South Florida Workforce
Member: Employ Florida
Operated by UNIDAD/M.B.H.C.C. (Miami Beach Hispanic Community Center)
Of course non-Hispanics are welcome at the South Miami Beach One-Stop Center. The staff and most of its clients are Hispanic. Cubans run the show, I was advised by an insider, and they dole out work according to a racial/ethnic pecking order. Cubans are at the apex, he said, and black Hispanics appear above "gringos" on the pyramid. It amuses me that, as the world turns, people who were on the bottom manage to get on top. More power to them, but please don't count me out. What the world really needs is a flatter top and a bigger middle so it can spin like a top rather than roll over on people.
South Beach, by the way, was once a retirement community with a large Jewish population. It is not what we would call a Hispanic neighborhood although many Hispanics do live there. Many more commute several hours a day to work Miami Beach's tourist industry, where Spanish-English bilingualism, at the very least, is practically necessary to do business. And all the better if someone can speak a few other languages to boot - sadly, employers do not pay a premium for bilingual services. Hence the South Beach One-Stop Center is conveniently located to serve the rapidly growing servant economy.
"Ten dollars an hour" was the most frequent phrase I heard at the Center. That is the ideal rate: many listed jobs pay considerably less. Many listings I saw were stale. One lady complained that she had been sent out to the boondocks for a job that had been filled two month's prior to her visit. I myself received one job lead from the Center; it turned out to be a bogus listing. I worked the fresh lists on the Internet and the ads in the papers, dropping by the Center daily to use the fax machine, copier, computer and telephone - it was access to that telephone in its office setting that landed me a good temp job that saved me, at least temporarily, from homelessness. Most importantly, almost all members of the staff were friendly; I felt so much at home that I actually look forward to visiting the One-Stop Center again in the near future. I often reflect on my experiences there.
Formerly Homeless People
I suppose I should mind my own business on a full-time basis, but I am not solely interested in my own employment, particularly when the immediate prospects are boring and dim, and an opportunity to take up someone else's cause arises - the cause might become my own one day. For example, I take an interest in the category of people termed "formerly homeless people." I dropped by the South Beach One-Stop Center one day to see Ben Menezil, Senior Job Placement Specialist, in hopes he could help resolve the predicament of a homeless man whom I had encountered on Alton Road.
Ben was interviewing someone when I arrived. I recognized the man: he was a recovering alcoholic, known in the community as "formerly homeless", because he lives in a residence for people who were once homeless. The City of Miami Beach actually considers such people as still within the stigmatized, homeless people category - people to be gotten rid of on behalf of law abiding citizens represented by real estate developers who want to build a more comfortable community. The residence for formerly homeless people is slated to be torn down soon to accommodate the gentry, whose fortune purchases high social station and affords them the right to displace people of low social status, many of them poor elderly folk, as part of Miami Beach's Art District gentrification program.
People may be Formerly Homeless for many reasons besides substance abuse. Take tsunamis and hurricanes, for examine. And there are man-made social and economic disasters that displace people as well. Moreover, since one-third of the population has no savings whatsoever in this great nation of ours, the leader of the civilization upon whom an attack is an attack on civilization per se, simply being laid off or fired can result in homelessness. People inculcated to the cult of gilded individualism have good cause to fear homelessness given the stigma attached to it, to pat themselves on the back for their own relatively comfortable conditions and blame homeless people for blighting the streets: "They want to be homeless," is the oft repeated refrain. That is why they lost their jobs to people in foreign countries, to new technology, to economic cycles, to injuries and mental and physical illnesses, and so on. That is why they got in the way of hurricanes and tsunamis, or revolutions and wars and the like. All that is not our fault; it is their fault; so send a few dollars to charitable organizations, avoid or evade as much taxation as possible, and let the people with latex gloves deal with those people.
Indeed, formerly homeless people are suspicious characters. They should always carry the stigma of their former homelessness. It might be wise to require them to register with the police department lest blight beset good neighborhoods. On the other hand, be tolerant and let them sleep in doorways. But don't feed them or they will turn the neighborhood into a dump. If too many of them do show up for free food, be sure and say that free food causes their plight, for otherwise they would get a job. In any case deny that a bad deal of the cards can cause a person's misfortune and throw him or her onto the street. Again, avoid and evade taxes unless you want to wind up homeless yourself. Have faith in faith-based charities and cut back on government programs. Since there is no such thing as bad luck for the chosen people, why should lucky people pay into social insurance programs? Still, relatively contented people are afraid they might wind up in sorry circumstances, and that is a good thing, because humans are essentially lazy and sinful. Therefore do not hide the unsightly facts in mental hospitals, prisons, and rehabilitation facilities: keep them on the streets, where they will frighten people into keeping the Wheel turning for their own sakes.
The stigma of homelessness is already so terrible that formerly homeless people have good cause to forget that they were once homeless. Mariel refugees from Cuba, for example, landed up in a Miami parking lot and under an overpass. But thanks to Uncle Sam's favoritism and many years of hard work, many of them have prospered; so much so that they earn considerably more than average workers on the whole in Miami Dade County, even though the majority of them cannot speak English. Some of the former refugees seem to have forgotten or want to forget that they were once homeless. A few of these formerly homeless persons and their leaders recently objected to having housing for formerly homeless people in their neighborhood - the housing would have been a small part of a planned Hispanic cultural center.
The Homeless Chef
Ben Menezil finally concluded the interview with the formerly homeless man, who walked away from Ben with face downcast. I have seen him on the street several times since then - he eventually found a job for himself as a parking lot attendant.
I approached Ben and inquired about services available to displaced, houseless, or homeless persons. I was asking, I said, because I had encountered a homeless man on Alton Road the day before, and thought he might be able to help the poor fellow. He was a thirty-something, handsome although grubby. When I encountered him, I explained to Ben, he was carrying a large, clear plastic envelope containing his resume and photographs of himself as head cook or chef at a previous job. He was very proud of the photo. He said he had lost his job and had run out of money while looking for another one. He had no place to keep his clothes, and wound up with what he had on his back, ruined from sleeping in alleys and under a pier. He complained that he did not have an address or a telephone number where employers could contact him.
He asked me for some money. I said I wished I could give everyone who asked for a handout a hundred dollars someday, but with my rent due and facing his life on the street unless I get a job right away, I would not give him a thin dime. He answered in the negative when I asked him if he knew where to apply for a food stamp card and small cash allowance, so I gave him that information, which I had picked up on in the Edgewater hood, and said he should not be too proud to accept assistance from the state as it was better than stealing and robbing - I was actually assuring myself, for I grew up where it was once considered better to rob a train or a bank than ask for help from the guv'ment. Furthermore, I recommended that he go to the One-Stop Workforce Innovation Center around the corner at 833 Sixth Street, and see "Ben" about getting work - I mentioned that I had seen ads for food service workers at the job fairs held at the Center. I recommended that he ask Ben where he might get some presentable clothes, an address, and a telephone number for the purpose of seeking employment. I told him I would tell Ben about him.
"Once a person is on the street like that, that's it, there is no chance of getting work," Ben said after I related my story.
"Surely, " I said, "there must be sufficient support for job-seeking available to such persons, otherwise they are doomed. In Kansas City, for example, there are places where displaced persons can get clothes, showers, a locker to keep things in, access to a telephone and voicemail - accessible from pay phones - and a mailing address."
"Miami isn't like that," Ben said. "People with that lifestyle won't get help."
"What if they don't want to live like that?" I asked. "Do you mean Miami, with all its riches, will not help gringos who fall through the cracks?"
"There are shelters," he replied, "but a person only gets one chance, and if he messes up and doesn't change his lifestyle, he won't be helped again."
Ben did not seem to know much about the local social issues or about the United States for that matter. I figured he must be an immigrant from Haiti. He has a reputation for being "independent" and "honest." He seems to be a nice fellow, and very bright to boot. He likes to hand out PMA (positive mental attitude) flyers around the employment office. He seems a bit brainwashed in favor of capital although he professes sympathy with labor. I asked him if he was making $ 10 per hour at the employment office. No, he said, more than that. Good for him, since the competition for even $10 is very stiff around Miami.
Maybe Ben is in training, I thought. I took up the matter with Omar Gil, Employer Consultant, and recounted what I had been told about the slim chances of displaced persons getting a hand up so they can find work.
"Who told you that? That's nonsense," Omar said irritably. He reached into a folder, pulled out four sheets of paper with information on services available and thrust them into my hand:
Assistance with food, shelter, utility bills, clothing, and health care might be obtained at various places. The information appeared to be as outdated as the employment office's job listings - many people including myself have complained about stale or apparently bogus listing. The sheet on home-energy assistance bore a handwritten note, "until 8-28-03"; the sheet on one-time emergency cash assistance bore a handwritten note, "No more funds, Marilyn, 4/14/02," and another note at the bottom, "Only for those do not Qualify for other programs" (sic) without mentioning what those other programs might be.
Another page listed only three community shelters for men - one of them closed on weekends. Two of the shelters listed are on 1st Avenue - in one area bus riders are treated to the sight of over a hundred indigent people stretched out on the sidewalks with their belongs on any given day. The remaining page duplicated information on shelters and provided information on institutions and agencies providing assistance for substance abuse, mental and physical health, and just plain help.
The information needs to be updated and consolidated with all other information on services available, published in an alphabetical directory indexed by services available, and distributed to everyone concerned, especially to those in need. Certain portions of the information can be printed in the form of small flyers or cards for hand out to indigent people on the street.
A Community Partnership
Omar's dated handouts did not include a reference to the Community Partnership For Homeless, Inc. (CPHI) 1550 North Miami Avenue, Miami Florida 33136, Tel. 305.329.3000. I found out about CPHI while waiting for the MetroMover at the Government Center train station in downtown Miami. A well dressed woman carrying a briefcase asked me for directions - she was going to a job interview. I chatted with her after we got on the train - the usual small talk. Her name is Lea.
"So how long will it take you to get home if you get the job downtown?" I asked.
"I'm homeless," said Lea pleasantly.
"I'm homeless. I was laid off my public services job two months ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"No need to be sorry. I'm O.K. I'll get another job."
"You don't look homeless. Where do you stay?"
"Close to the School Board station," she said. "There's no need to look down and out. We have showers and good clothes."
"What about a phone number for your resume? And the bus fare? "
"An employer can call my social worker, and I can get tokens to go on interviews," Lea said.
"Aren't you afraid? Isn't the shelter bad?"
"No, I'm not afraid. I'll be all right. The shelter is safe - there is plenty of security."
"I see people wandering around in the streets without any place to go to. They look awful. Some say they want jobs."
"There's no excuse for that," Lea shook her head. "There's a place to go. There are services. You can get calls, get mail, get clothes, and job leads too."
"Where?" I asked.
Lea opened her purse, pulled out a CHPI card and handed it to me.
"Keep it," she said, smiling. "And thank you. I enjoyed talking with you."
The Heart of America
I will let Omar know about CPHI - maybe South Florida Workforce can check it out and circulate the information if it checks out. There should be some sort of current information center for people who need it.
The Heart of America (booster term for Kansas City, Missouri) has a model program for helping everyone concerned, whether rich or poor - see Downtown Council Kansas City www.downtownkc.org. It is a highly successful community hygiene and safety program operated by a group of downtown business persons with the help of government agencies. The few genuinely civic-minded people in the City of Miami Beach will no doubt be interested in it, for some parts of South Beach have become a disgrace not only to Miami but to the United States. Tourists in the heart of South Beach, around Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue, near City hall, have remarked to me, "How can this happen in the richest country on earth?" A store owner told me that he closed his store, not because business was bad, but because he just could not stand the pathetic way of life on Washington Avenue, and felt his family was endangered by the many vagrants and mentally ill people on the street. Employees on Lincoln Road have said they do not like to work in the area at night. Others say they would not to live in South Beach; it's just too "seedy" and "trashy", despite the fact that it is touted as a mecca for the rich and famous. Still. a recent poll commissioned by the City reports that South Beach life is good and getting better. So we hope even better models will be considered.
Kansas City's police-department certified 'Public Safety Ambassadors' hand out informational cards to inform people that panhandling is illegal and urging them not to give handouts to panhandlers, explaining that persons in need can obtain the necessaries at the places listed in another handout - a small directory of available services.
The Safety Ambassadors are proactive; they are not the "observe and report" security personnel on bicycles we see in South Beach. Kansas City's Safety Ambassadors approach people who are violating laws against loitering, abusing substances, panhandling, sleeping in doorways, drinking alcoholic beverages and urinating in public and so on. They are firm but polite, insisting that the laws be obeyed. If the infractions persist, they radio the police for immediate assistance. Most importantly, the Safety Ambassadors try to help people on the streets, directing them to places where they can get needed services. Furthermore, they maintain a constant and obvious presence during daylight hours, mingling and conversing with residents with the public safety in mind. Although perfection is unattainable, downtown Kansas City's streets are strikingly safer and cleaner compared to their sorry state a few years ago.
Ideal Miami Beach Services
Ideally, a few crucial services should be provided for displaced people in Miami Beach who are serious about getting jobs. The provisions should be available to qualified people at or near the Miami Beach employment office:
Personal hygiene facilities - restroom, showers, laundry
Bus passes - a round trip to an interview costs $ 4 if a bus transfer is required
Voicemail service - accessible with a 1-800 number at payphones
Please Hire Somebody Like Me Today
Thank you very much for your attention!