Pages from a Personal History of the Bay Area

How I came to describe homeless persons as:

America's Frontline People

"How can I bring it home to them?" I wondered, sitting in the corridor, waiting for my turn to address a session of a disability rights group at Boalt Law School, University of California, Berkeley.

It was the mid-1990s. I had come armed with an array of statistics on who our homeless clients were at the nonprofit agency that I headed--the Jobs for Homeless Consortium, a national leader in the field of homeless training and employment.

I was ready to shoot numbers at them about the variety of backgrounds and skills our clients possessed along with their current challenges.

I peered into the room and saw an America of concerned young people. "It won't work," I told myself. "Even at their retentive best, the numbers will be lost a few minutes after I utter them."

Would the statistics help them understand that one of our clients had worked on the space project? That others had fought and bled on foreign battlefields in answer to America's call? That their skills, assets, and experiences were many and diverse?

I had to do better for our clients than be a spouter of data that would erase any interest in their many hidden narratives.

Our clients' stories were far too important--as were what they had done and what they had to offer America--to be buried under a mass of client census information.

If that happened, everyone--our clients, the audience, and America--would be the loser. For, as in other areas of civil society, private perceptions mould public discourse and action.

My task was set. I had to bring home to them what I had learned in my daily interaction with homeless persons.

I started scribbling furiously. Out of those moments came the following introductory word picture (which has been subjected to some grammatical refinements). I believe it had a strong impact.

Who Are Our Homeless Clients?

They have fought our wars

And kept our fragile peace;

Built our bridges,

Roads, houses, hospitals,

And offices;

Driven our trucks and buses;

Grown, harvested, prepared,

And served our food;

Worked in our factories;

Written our poems;

Played or sung our songs;

Kept our books;

Taught and raised our children;

Nursed us and provided care

When we couldn't care for ourselves;

Built our space ships

And high-tech toys . . .

Later, back at work in the daily interaction with our clients, in our mutual daily work in making and re-making America, it became clear to me that they were:

America's Frontline People.




And the following

Popular History Pages


____________ * ____________


A Grand Rapids Popular History


Pages from New River Free Press, 1973 to 1977


Your Friendly Guide to Urban Survival & Improvement:


Signed, Limited Editions

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Michael Chacko Daniels'

handcrafted books:

"The books are beautiful,

they look like little treasures."

--Brenda Coleman

Each copy is

a work of art in itself.

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Anything Out of Place Is Dirt
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Split in Two
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Posted on Friday, April 15, 2005 at 01:43PM by Registered CommenterMichael Chacko Daniels | CommentsPost a Comment