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June 16, 2010

Inbox — June 16, 2010

Unwavering Unseld
With the passing of George Unseld, Fairness has lost one of the most persistent, wise and genuine “friends in high places” we have ever had.

George was never an elected official we had to “convince” of every human being’s right to equality. He never put his finger to the wind to see if supporting justice for LGBT people was the “smart” thing to do politically. What mattered to George was whether it was just.

In the period leading up to the 1999 vote on civil rights protections for LGBT people, many of our friends on the former Board of Aldermen wavered on the Fairness insistence on including not only sexual orientation, but also gender identity in the ordinance. At a meeting at the Fairness Campaign office, lead by our transgendered sisters and brothers, other alderpersons were questioning their ability to win enough votes if gender identity was included. At a certain point, George, who had not spoken yet, leaned his 6-foot-something self back in his chair and said, “I may spend the rest of my life trying to understand the terminology around gender identity, but that’s not the issue here. As a black man, I know discrimination. That’s what we have here. Gender identity is going in the law.”

And so it did.

Thank you, George. Thank you.
Carla F. Wallace, co-founder of Fairness Campaign, Prospect

Shelter from the Norm
Just like we know the world is not flat, scientists have a long consensus on the negative effects of overcrowding and poor sanitation on humans. One hundred years ago, planners from around the world recognized that housing squalor — overcrowded housing and poor sanitation — resulted in greater mental and physical illness, crime, declining property values and early death. Thanks to greater government oversight, zoning and planning of housing, people now live 25 years longer in American cities.

Today, we have several shelters that exploit the poor by not providing proper housing standards or services so that operating costs are minimized and salaries of managers are maximized. These shelters are simply barbaric. Yet Louisville supports them with taxpayer money and donations from citizens.

There is a long public record from community meetings, speeches, investigative reporting, brochures and community tours documenting the dismal state of several Louisville homeless shelters. Indeed, we have better oversight of our dog shelters than our homeless shelters. Why is it that the homeless shelters don’t provide the same kind of protections as renters, public housing users or even persons in jails? Why are people with mental illness being put in shelters with little or no professional staff?

At a minimum, the task force should mandate that all shelters must be sanitary with clean restrooms, soap and toilet paper. I also suggested that the practice of stacking 50 strangers like sardines on a mat in one room is inhumane. Or ending mega shelters where hundreds of homeless live under one roof. If the housing task force has their way, these practices will not end. My suggestions have already been endorsed by former presidents of the American Sociological Association, American Planning Association and American Institute of Certified Planners.

The task force not only failed to embrace these recommendations but ignored 20 other suggestions we gave the task force from 100 progressive cities like Cincinnati, Raleigh, Detroit, New York and even Covington, Ky. This was built on my previous research on the role of housing regulation reported in my five books, roughly 30 academic journal articles, $3.5 million in funded research and service (sun.louisville.edu).

Shelters should exist to rebuild lives, not degrade those less fortunate than us. Maybe then we won’t have the spectacle of homeless operators getting on local TV and asking for donations of toilet paper and soap.
John I. Gilderbloom, Highlands

Regulators, Mount Up
While I respect Pat Smith’s right to an opinion (LEO Inbox, June 2), I feel he is uninformed about homeless conditions in the country. Dr. Gilderbloom has researched and surveyed 100 cities on the conditions and laws regulating the homeless. Setting the rhetoric aside, let’s ask the simple question: What is Dr. Gilderbloom trying to accomplish? He wants regulations that will protect the homeless, and he wants the homeless to have a say in the matter. How is this a bad thing? We even have regulations for dog shelters. I believe people are more valuable. I would like to put forth a question: Why do the shelters want to be unregulated? If everything was fine, the regulations would not change anything. Is there something going on they want to hide? When people are so frightened of regulation, there is usually a reason. What is that reason?
Georgia Newsom, Portland

Castle Tussle
As a former president of the Original Highlands Neighborhood Association (OHNA), I feel compelled to write regarding the ongoing tussle between Wayside Christian Mission and the OHNA. In 2005, I was part of a task force that completed the Original Highlands Neighborhood Plan, which was later adopted by Metro Council. The plan outlined recommendations including landmark designation and zoning changes. Near the top of the list was “reuse” of the vacated Mercy Campus, which we recognized as a serious issue. The OHNA immediately began investigating the feasibility of landmark designation for the neighborhood. A first step in protecting our community, we thought. Controversy ensued, and the OHNA was taken over by a small group who saw the designation as an infringement on their property rights. Their arguments were intoxicating. After all, a person’s home is his/her castle. The controversy got heated, and I decided to excuse myself from neighborhood affairs. Striking a balance between property rights and the good of the community got kicked to the curb.

Unfortunately, none of the recommendations in our neighborhood plan was implemented or studied. While I take issue with Wayside on several fronts, the OHNA’s argument looks pretty close to a NIMBY reaction. That’s too bad, because by following our neighborhood plan, the Mercy Campus wouldn’t have been on Wayside’s radar. The OHNA missed an opportunity to control its destiny. True, a person’s home is his/her castle, but what happens when someone drops a homeless shelter across the street from your beautiful Victorian
John C. Riddick Jr., Highlands

Going Home
I really hope I misunderstood Jonathan Meador’s comment on Helen Thomas (LEO, June 9). Regarding her comment that the Jews in Israel should “go home to Germany, Poland and the United States,” Meador says she is “telling it like it is.” So does this mean he believes they should go back to Germany and Poland to the concentration camps where 6 million of their ancestors were exterminated?
Charlie Bensinger, Highlands

Over the Line
After reading the previous week’s LEO, I was surprised to see Jonathan Meador’s comment in “What a Week” about Helen Thomas, who said, “Jews should get the hell out of Palestine” — inexcusable and shameful. But it appears Meador shares her anti-Semitic sympathies. Say it ain’t so! Surely he misspoke. I cannot conceive that a young writer in America, the land of freedom, would support the destruction of a sovereign nation. Certainly I misunderstood him. I am proud to say that I support Obama in condemning the comment made by Thomas. Yarmuth’s paper has said a lot of things I don’t agree with, but this would be over the line.
Bennett Fulner, South End

Oil Tea
Our Gulf Coast has been tarred and feathered, and BP and its defenders are still saying it is not as bad as it looks. A whole ecosystem is being irreparably destroyed, and the East Coast will soon get an unwanted lube job as the currents pull the sludge toward the nation’s capital and money markets.

In the meantime, our senator, Mitch McConnell, and his soon-to-be BFF, Rand Paul, are on record as supporting the big energy companies and their continued rape and destruction of America. How many mountains, rivers, forests and oceans do we need to sacrifice to the gods of our American hedonism?

I’m sorry to break this news to the American people, but it seems they have made their choice, and they have chosen leaders who take their orders and money from the very industries that are turning this planet into a wasteland. At this very moment, our Kentucky senators are trying to deregulate the oversight powers of our EPA. The Tea Party/Republican senatorial candidate Paul has said accidents happen and government should not be so hard on those companies that have caused the greatest ecological disaster in our history. Really? Does he speak for you?

We the American electorate have been at this crossroad before, and in our questionable wisdom, we continue to choose the candidates who represent big business at the expense of our greatest natural resource, our environment. We get what we deserve, and in this case, we got it good. Enjoy your black, oily English tea. I’ll see you in November!
Joseph C. Wohlleb, Highlands