The annual celebration of America’s Independence Day, with soaring entertainment in City Center including fireworks, is a bittersweet event for Philadelphians who are military veterans and homeless.
Philadelphia’s homeless population includes nearly 400 veterans, many of whom languish in Center City where those July 4th celebrations will occur.
It’s incredibly funky that military veterans find themselves with little recourse to resources required for adequate shelter, living on the streets and scuffling for food in a nation that spends billions fighting wars that really don’t make America safer.
During the past year America sank $118 billion into just the war in Afghanistan, a recent report from ABC News report stated.
Politicians who preen publicly as patriotic supporters of the military when spending on war too often treat homeless vets with disdain.
A 2011 report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service stated the U.S. Congress had appropriated $1.27 trillion since the 9/11 incidents for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs and veterans health care.
Counting dollars in the billions and trillions easily boggles the mind but there’s some accounting that doesn’t require having a super-computer to help with calculations.
It’s clearly evident from simple arithmetic that just a small percentage of those billions/trillions routinely expended on the U.S. military could eliminate the dire funding problems facing Philadelphia’s deficit plagued city government that force reductions in services including help for the homeless.
Just cutting out constructing an aircraft carrier or closing a few of the one thousand military bases America operates in 150 foreign countries could put Philadelphia and other cities on firm financial footing for decades — without doing what conservatives consider sacrilegious: raising taxes on the wealthy.
Last Thursday, Philadelphia City Council took a small, symbolic step toward seeking sanity on America’s military spending.
Council approved a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to redirect military spending to fund education, jobs in the public and private sectors plus restoration of the nation’s infrastructure and environment.
Funding for domestic needs would come from ending the war in Afghanistan and substantially cutting America’s military budget, stated the non-binding resolution introduced by Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez with the active support of Council colleagues like Blondell Reynolds Brown, W. Wilson Goode Jr. and Curtis Jones.
Content in that resolution listed Philly-centric circumstances crying out for increased federal funding like homeless military veterans, one-third of Philadelphia children living in poverty, one-third of all city residents reporting hardships with having adequate food to eat plus high rates of unemployment.
Now the prospect of the current, Republican-dominated Congress acting to slash military spending is slim to none — despite such actions benefitting constituents of those conservatives.
However, this resolution approved by Philadelphia’s City Council is a solid example of common sense, fiscal responsibility and democracy.
Similar resolutions have won approval in over one hundred cities (large and small) in nearly two dozen states from Maine to Oregon.
The fact that resolutions calling for Congress to use American government money to help Americans has support in nominally non-liberal places like Montana and North Carolina hasn’t immunized those resolutions from ignorant attacks.
A writer for a Michigan-based group that alleges its goal is “sensible education reform” castigated the Philadelphia resolution as the product of “radicals, malcontents and burned-out hippies” approved by Council to mask its miserable handling of “public money…”
The Delaware Valley New Priorities Network drafted the resolution approved by City Council, which underwent changes in language to gain support of some council members.
The Network is comprised of labor, neighborhood, faith and peace organizations, said Network member Ken Heard.
Heard pointed to polls stating 85 percent of African Americans opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when addressing the misconception that anti-war/peace initiatives enjoy little support among Blacks.
“Two Black religious denominations went on record opposing the war in Iraq before any major white church group. All African-American members of City Council voted for this resolution,” Heard said.
Over half of the homeless veterans around America are African-American and Hispanic according to statistics compiled by national organizations.
Five days after Independence Day the administration of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will fight in federal court to preserve its ban on groups providing outdoor meals to the homeless inclusive of homeless vets.
Groups targeted by the Nutter administration’s ban are primarily the two dozen-plus religious groups serving meals on the Parkway who consider feeding the homeless their religious mission.
Ironically preserving religious freedom was one goal behind America fighting its War of Independence.
Nutter said his ban is to preserve dignity for the homeless plus ensuring safe food despite City officials having no reports of food-related illnesses from such outdoor feeding.
Critics of the ban, including those filing the lawsuit against the no-feeding policy, said there are no facilities available for Nutter’s envisioned indoor feeding plus Nutter’s designated outdoor area is adjacent to a City Hall construction site that is dusty and noisy with no seating space.
One of the parties suing Nutter is the Rev. Cranford Coulter of the King’s Jubilee who has provided meals to the homeless at 18th and the Parkway since 1989.
“The mayor talks about feeding indoors, but there is no space. Three homeless shelters are closing with no replacements,” Coulter said.
“Sharing food with the hungry is a part of the tradition of all major religions.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.