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Alison Johnson

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Alison Johnson

Dr. Godwin

March 13, 2010

Transcription


        I conducted my interview at the Rainbow Center in Macon, Ga. We were in the
interviewee’s office, which is located in the shelter where the residents stay. While nothing
noteworthy occurred during the interview, my interviewee did have to tend to some of the needs
of the residents there at the center before we could begin. It was a fairly quiet setting and there
were little to no distractions while the interview was being conducted. Occasionally music could
faintly be heard from one of the resident’s rooms, but that was the extent of anything remotely
being disruptive. Over all it was a great interview, which gave me much insight into the epidemic
of homelessness with in the United States.

I: Ok first of all I want to say thank you so much for allowing me to interview you, and your
name is?

R: Your welcome, my name is Bob Jones

I: and uhh where were you born? Uh when were you born and where?

R: I was born uh May 19th 1987 in uh Pittsburg Pennsylvania

I: Awesome, and um did you graduate from high school?

R: Yes, I graduated in uh, at Notre Dame High school in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

I: Wow, you were all over the place.

R: Oh yea

I: um did you attend college?

R: Yes, I uh just graduated in May, from Mercer with a degree ah a Bachelors degree in ah
sociology with a minor in theatre.

I: awesome, uh did you attend, or are you attending Graduate school?

R: maybe sometime in the future umm that’s, that’s definitely a possibility. I got out of college
and needed a little bit of time to um engage in the “ real world” what ever that is um but yea.
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I: Um, ok the next question is what is your house hold income, and recently with the economy
um has it changed any or has it stayed the same?

R: um, uh I actually I rent a back apartment of a house from another guy but as far as mine is
concerned um they keep us at 105% of the poverty line for any given area we’re at. Since its an
Americore program and its americore vista and so I’m, its about $800 a month at the moment,
somewhere in there um.. and that’s actually a set rate so the economy really hasn’t done much to
that but they keep us right around that 105 line. It’s supposed to actually help us uh relate a little
bit better to the people we work with.

I: Ok, and if you could define uh your social class, what would you say that you are, middle
class, lower class?

R: I I would say middle class.

I: Middle class?

R: Middle class yea.

I: umm and what is your racial classification?

R: Caucasian.

I: Umm now where do you live? You basically kind of explained that but...

R: I live uh, I live in a back apartment of a house over by my college actually where I graduated.

I: awesome, and um is it just you that makes up your household or are there other people?

R: um I live with uh my roommate Zack and his fiancé Amelia, so there are three of us now.

I: and um what is your religious affiliation?

R: um, uh raised Catholic uh loosely Catholic, um non participating, that kind of realm.

I: Ok, now we’re going to move to the um definition section, and the first question is um how do
you define activism?

R: uhh I would say that uh activism is actually getting up and doing something, whether that’s
um, whether that’s writing a letter, whether that’s going to meetings and seeing what’s going on,
educating yourself, umm it’s more than talking about it. Talking about it helps, it helps to
actually do something with the issue, but actually doing something pro-active “ active” being
part of that obviously, um that actually makes up what activism is.

I: umm would you consider yourself an activist?
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R: Yes, yea.

I: ok, um do you have any role models that happen to be an activist, or anybody that you look up
to?

R: yea um, especially when it comes to doing this type of work with the homeless, there are a
couple of people who do that here in Macon, that are uh amazing, uh to look after. Um including
Jane Doe uh she feeds the homeless uh down in Central city park every Sunday night. She is
with out a doubt one of the most um, one of the most down to earth people doing this kind of
work that I have met so far, she, doesn’t matter what the persons issue is, she sees them as a
human being and she loves them just as much for it, so she’s, she’s absolutely incredible.

I: That’s awesome! Now is she the one that came to our church, and uhh was selling the
necklaces?

R: um yep that’s Jane.

I: awesome, she seemed really nice. Um ok often there’s stereotypes that come with activism um,
some of them being people that are irrational or angry, um have you been stereotyped, that you
know of?

R: Oh yea, yea. Actually um when we go out, when ever we do speaking events at different
places every so often I’ll get called a Communist um that happens a lot. People just kind of shrug
you off as being a bit crazy um and not really being a “productive” member of society, if you
will. Ah it’s, it’s kind of crazy when you think about it but um yea the Communist thing is
coming out more and more recently especially with everything, politics being what it is. This
whole “ socialism scare” that you know is this red herring that we talk about and uh actually,
Americore the group that I work for has been called by some, some really fundamentalist right
wing pun dents the S.S of Obama. Which is uh pretty interesting, uh I never knew that uh A:
Obama was a Fascist, and B: I was A uh Hitler youth, but hey it’s whatever! That’s fine. (He
laughs a bit)

I: ( Giggles)…um, ok. So everyone has a vision when there um seeking to bring about change, so
what would you say your vision is right now?

R: I’d say that there, there are two. There’s kind of a split in between there. We’re actually
working on a brand new shelter, kind of organization here in Macon to actually um solve some
of the more long-term problems with homelessness. Um getting people in and not just ware
housing them and giving them a place to sleep, but also moving them on to uh um a stable
situation. Um so that’s one vision that we’re working on uh fairly often about that. The other
one, which relates a little bit closer to uh what we do on a daily basis, is uh for people to stop
seeing the homeless as these people that are separate from us. They aren’t and it’s insane to
think that their problems are different from our own problems and their alcoholism is different
from our alcoholism, or drug abuse or anything like that, or mental illness. That’s just not the
case, and so we uh work pretty hard along those lines.
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I: What is it about this um issue of homelessness that really inspires you, like what got you
involved basically?

R: Ah, there were a number of different things that got me involved with this, but being in
Macon and graduating from Mercer, um often times we don’t see the problem unless you
actually kind of branch out into the community about it. I, probably one of the defining moments
that kind of led me down this track was, it was actually a year ago yesterday. Um we were
coming back from El Som. On Mercer University, and uh it was later in the night. My ex-
girlfriend, girlfriend at the time um and my friend and his girlfriend, and uh we saw a body on
the side of the road, and we, this was right outside of Miller high school.

I: ugh that gives me chills

R: Yea, so we got out of the car and uh it was a woman dying of a coke overdose. Um and as I
was holding her, she died…and so…it was, it was a crazy crazy event. Um but we went down to
the detectives bureau afterwards because we had to talk to all the cops about how we found the
body and all that kind of thing. And uh, I asked them because they were being so nonchalant
about the whole thing. I uh I asked how often does this happen? One of the cops said “ well
about a couple times a week”. I thought that doesn’t make much sense to have this happen so
often that we’re nonchalant about it. That we’re just like ah it’s just somebody else dying. She
had no I.D on her, nobody knew who she was, she was buried in a common plot, there was no
service, no nothing. So, um that was kind of a nice push into the right direction.

I: I bet, mm that’s really sad. Is there anything that you wouldn’t do to make change?

R: Yea, um I don’t like throwing people under the bus, the “ proverbial” bus if you will, um and
there are times that that is an issue. Now some people I don’t mind throwing under the bus,
actually I do quite often, and it’s ok to play hardball, playing hardball is a good thing. But when
it comes to actual, the homeless, and some of the stuff that we do uh with uh the media in town,
um and a lot time when we do stuff with the media, they want to go in and take pictures of these
camps that we go into. Uh sometimes that’s ok. Other times them taking pictures and publishing
them would show the public where the camps are, which would cause unwanted attention and
police action and things like that. So, sometimes, especially when it comes to ah, on a micro-
level what the people, ah the individual homeless in the town, I’m not going to do anything that
would jeopardize them. Um when it comes to some of the organizations and some of the places
that really aren’t doing as much as they should be. I’m ok, yea that’s fine. I’ll talk about them as
much, but when it comes to the individual homeless, no I’m not going to do that.

I: Now that you mention media actually being a part of it. I remember my senior year of high
school, we would take food to people living under uh one of the bridges off of Broadway and uh
their no longer there, because they were uh basically revealed to the public and people didn’t
want them there. So I remember not being able to take food down there anymore, because we
didn’t know where they had gone.
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R: Yea, umm we actually just, we just had a camp that moved last night actually, because, not so
much because of media but the city wanted to buy the piece of property that they were squatting
on and turn it into a parking lot.

I: Does that happen a lot?

R: It’s happening more and more because of revitalization, uh the revitalization of ah downtown.
The problem is we’re just sifting people around, we aren’t doing anything to help them so the
problem isn’t going to stop, we’re just sifting them around to random spots.

I: Um, what would have to um..excuse me, what would have to happen positively or negatively
for you to stop your activism, basically what would have to happen either way for you to stop
working with the homeless?

R: Um, I would say in a positive light, the goal with all this is always working yourself out of a
job, which is um an interesting thought. That’s not going to happen in the next fifteen, twenty,
probably a hundred years. Poverty is cyclical and uh poverty is such an epidemic that it’s
everywhere. Um, I can’t really see anything shocking me into just dropping everything all
together, um I mean so far we’ve had to deal with a couple of rough situations. Especially when
it comes to activism those really really rough situations tend to solidify your beliefs and solidify
the need to do this and to help people.

I: Would you mind talking about one of those negative situations?

R: Uh, yea. We have especially here at the Rainbow Center, we have people getting kicked out
for things like drug use or alcoholism all the time, and we often times if they get kicked out of
here, very legitimately so, I mean you can’t use drugs here, you know. If they get kicked out here
they’ll go back to the streets. We run into people on the streets who I, you know saw a week
before in here and they look like half of the person that they were, and they look completely
down trodden and cracked out of their mind and things like that. It’s a really rough thought to
think that I was a part of kicking them out, and now their sleeping under a bridge somewhere, um
those kind of things happen and they happen a lot but at the same time it’s a good reminder, that,
that there has to be a regulation to this. There has to be especially when it comes to shelters and
things like that, you have to actually, you have to regulate it in some manner, rules have to be
there you can’t just let everybody come in and just act the same way that they would act
otherwise.

I: Very true, what progress do you feel that you have made?

R: Um, I started this job in May, um May of 2009, we’ve done some really really amazing work
in getting the public to be aware of the issue. We’ve made some really great contacts with City
Council, the Mayors office, and also the news, the media has been, has been great with what
we’re doing, also we’ve been speaking to a ton a ton a ton of different people from different
backgrounds and all those kinds of things, so progress as far as that’s concerned has been
amazing. Um our efforts, where some of the main things, we actually have this new organization
up and running because we’ve got people kind of involved in that process, and um there’s
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definitely progress in the way of advocacy and awareness, along those lines. Um when it comes
to administrative lines and things like that um it’s harder to see that, and it’s harder to see the
macro version of all that, but we see, we see it little by little.

I: And um, what are your future plans?

R: Well, we just found out this past week that I am going, ah I got a promotion.

I: Congratulations

R: Thank you, thank you. As of May I will be in charge of all of our programs in Georgia and
South Carolina.

I: And what is your official title now?

R: Um, I am a coordinator of the Faces of Homelessness Speakers Bureau for the National
Coalition for the Homeless um here in Macon. Um when I actually move into that new position I
will be a vista team leader for Georgia and South Carolina for the National Coalition.

I: And um, so what is, do you have any plans set that your going to immediately get in there and
start working on?

R: Um, yea, when it comes to some of the things that I’m looking at especially with the teams
spread across the two states is a uh, much more being able to communicate with each other
regularly, talking about the different issues we’re having, doing bigger events, doing
conferences, things like that on awareness issues. Um working a whole lot more with local
governments, that’s really really, It’s tricky with our position, since we aren’t allowed to be
political since we’re um federal employees, um Americore is a federal program, so we can’t be
political along the lines of Democratic, Republican any thing along the lines like that. Um, we
also can’t be religiously affiliated on the job, so we can’t go in and do evangelical work or
anything like that, while we are wearing um, well we call it when we’re wearing our A. But
working with local governments on awareness issues and making sure that we’re un biased
politically but biased when it comes to advocacy. Um, that’s something big we’re going to push
for, very soon.

I: Um, now if you wouldn’t mind um what actually is the Rainbow center, like what do you do
here? Could you explain to me a little bit about that?

R: Um, yea, well our program, our program is just housed here but we do some work for the
Rainbow center, we also do some work for the Macon Coalition to end homelessness. The
Rainbow center itself is a transitional housing facility other wise known as a shelter. It’s for
people with HIV and Aids, um not everybody here was homeless before uh they got here, a
majority of them were or they just got out of prison, things like that. This place is about ah,
getting you stabilized and moving you on to a better situation. So everybody gets their own
room, their own T.V., telephone, refrigerator, bathroom, ect. ect., um and then they work their
way through our programs a certain number of NA and AA meetings depending on their
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situation coming in, and then ah we move them, once your stabilized, then it’s ok to move you
on. We move them to apartments off the property and then from there, their stabilized even more
in their own setting.

I: You mentioned programs they have to go through, um what do they actually have to do?

R: Um, to actually be a resident here? Um Alcoholics Anonymous, uh Narcotics Anonymous for
Narcotics, obviously. They have to attend a number of meetings for that.
Um there’s an Aids support group that they have to go to I believe every Wednesday night. Um
where they talk a lot about stigmas and things that they’ve been faced with. Um, you want to
hear some ah heartbreaking stories out of those folks, it’s ridiculous, talking about stigmas
involved with Aids and HIV. Um What else do they have to do, they ah, to be able to stay here,
if you have an income it cost you a third of your income to stay, but if you don’t have an income
a third of nothing is still nothing. So there are a number of service hours they have to do either in
the community or in here at the center. That way, it then helps to provide back for things like
food.

I: Hmm, as far as fundraising or groups coming in to help, um how do you feel about that, maybe
raising awareness and the fundraising aspect of it?

R: We ah, only recently have started doing fundraising itself, um the branch of Americore that
I’m in, which is called Vista, which is volunteers, it’s a service to America, um we do capacity
building initiatives as compared to direct service. So when it comes to fundraising, normally
what we’re going to be doing is figuring out the programs and gathering volunteers to do the
fundraising versus doing the fundraising ourselves. Um sometimes it does happen, but we try not
to let it happen but when it comes to gathering volunteers and such we try to um rally the troops
whenever we go out and try to do our presentations and tell people where they can go to
volunteer and things like that.

I: Do yall have quite a few volunteers?

R: Um, yea, yea we have a good number, I’d say uh at an average speaking event of about
twenty people in the audience we’re going to pull in about two or three volunteers to do other
things, and then we ship them out to different places in the community that way.

I: Cool, and um do yall participate in any protests or anything like that?

R: Um I, (smirk) I have personally, um I don’t wear my Americore stuff when I do it, um just
because that would be bad for a couple of different reasons, and once again it’s a federal program
so you can’t really show to much biased towards one thing or another. I ah, I’ve been involved
with some protesting, especially with the ah, the Stop Sex trafficking opposition, and um lately
with some of the new regulations that we’re trying to pass here in massage parlors, which is great
legislation. Um I’m trying to cut down on Sex Trafficking so I’ve done some protesting with
that, and then ah a lot of the other stuff that uh, sometimes pops up, they’re just opportunities for
me to go in and butt my head into a situation and say let’s think about the homeless while were at
that. Ah, along the lines of that um, the city purchasing that land that I was talking about, when
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their meeting was going to be down at the property because they were bringing in some
developers to look at it. I found out the time that it was going to happen, so I just went down
there and sat in the homeless camp and waited for them until they showed up, and when they did
I said “ Hey I’m Bob from D.C with the National Coalition for the Homeless.” Even though I’m
not really from D.C., but D.C. helps, you mention D.C. and it’s great. For a second there I’m
sure, I’m sure they thought I was a homeless guy, but it was funny. It was definitely funny.

I: I know you mentioned that yall organize a lot of things, um what goes into that organizing?

R: A lot of contacts, making the right contacts and having those contacts, and keeping all of
those contacts up to date with what you are doing. A lot of the time, especially when it comes to
pushing for awareness and advocacy it really helps to absolutely be ah..stubborn as hell and ah
just continue calling people, because after A while their going to say, Fine yea, fine, that will be
alright. And I have a regular weekly call sheet for a couple of people, that I just call them every
week I say “ Hey I’m just following up with you for about the twentieth time.” Actually one of
those worked out the other week after about the six or seventh month, so ah somebody actually
called back, which is great!

I: So persistence?

R: Yea, yea persistence is always helpful when organizing things.

I: Um, and this is the final question, but have you met much opposition in your activism and
when you do um how do you respond to that? How do you react?

R: We actually meet a lot of opposition here in Macon often time it’s, actually I think I
mentioned this at our speaking event when we came in to Pine Forest, um we had a pastor at a
downtown church ask us, he said, “ So are you really trying to tell me that you have more
compassion for the homeless bum downtown who’s urinating and defecating in our ally’s rather
than the business guy who’s trying to make a living for himself”? and I was like “ Well You’re a
pastor and you’re asking me this question”? There’s another church that is actually hiring
security guards for the front steps to make sure the homeless stay off the steps when people are
coming out. It, it’s a problem no one wants to talk about but when people start to see the problem
instead of trying to address it we shoo it away. We had a police official once, tell us that it was
ok for people to be sleeping on benches downtown during the day, as long as they looked nice,
but if they were wearing a shabby looking T-shirt, and smelled a little bit bad, then that wasn’t
ok. Well I’m pretty sure that, that um you can’t describe that any other way than profiling. If
you don’t have access to laundry facilities than you can’t sleep on the benches, but the business
guy who wants to take a nap outside, that’s ok, go for it. We run into a lot of opposition when it
comes to that and we butt heads sometimes with the revitalization crap. People who are so
concentrated, a lot of people, like a lot of what New Town Macon does is great stuff, they do
some really cool stuff along with College Hill Corridor, those kinds of things, um not
specifically with those folks, but we have had cases where people are so focused on making
buildings look pretty that they forget that there are people who need help, that don’t really fit into
the whole theory of revitalization. We run into a lot of opposition when it comes along those
lines. Um other than that, normally, we have a couple of different ways of dealing with it, um my
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coworkers, when ever we do face opposition they say that they play good cop, I play bad cop
because I uh, I’m not afraid to bark when I need to bark. I’ll just say it like that, um I just kind of
tell people what I think of the entire situation. So, when that does happen it’s nice to give people
a reality check and say “ Hey, by the way there are five hundred and seventy eight people in
Macon who you’re forgetting”.

I: Yea, do you have any um statistics that you could give me um with ah nation wide
homelessness and then um locally.

R: mmm hmm, yea, yea, In America today you’re talking about 3. 5 million people at some point
through out the year experiencing homelessness, of that 1.3 million are children. Of that 1.3
million, 650,000 are under the age of six. Um fifty percent of the women and children out there
are fleeing from domestic violence. 400,000 veterans are homeless at some point through out the
year, with 198,000 homeless every single night. Um the estimates on people coming back from
Iraq and Afghanistan and being homeless currently are right at 1,900 um homeless vets coming
back from these last two wars that are still going on. Um, let’s see here, there are 4 to 6 times
more animal shelters than homeless shelters in the United States, that’s a fun one. With in Bibb
county specifically the DCA count, which is Department of Community Affairs puts that number
at 578, that number is still a little bit low, but they use the same research method to find that,
which is a head count practically, as they did the year before, they didn’t change it up and that
number rose by 200. Um, when you look at homeless students, um during the 2006-2007 school
year, Bibb County had that number right around 100 homeless students. Often times that’s
students who are living with other families, because their family does not have a house or an
apartment of their own or anything like that, that was in 2006/2007. In 2008/2009, that number
jumped up to about 500. So, it’s a steadily increasing problem. Um, in Bibb county 1 in 4 live
below the poverty line, um if you look at African Americans specifically that number jumps up
to 1 in 3 living below the poverty line. Case workers at Bibb county De-fax, um yea Bibb count
De-fax um, there are about 40 of them, 30 or 40 of them I believe and they see about 800 to 900
cases per worker. Um it’s insane this is something we don’t think about. It’s kind of crazy to
think that I had live here for three years before realizing “God, Macon is an impoverished town”.

I: And I’ve lived here twenty years.

R: There you go. If you don’t cross over, if you don’t cross over Eisenhower and go down by
Lynmore Estates near the peach orchards, and if you don’t go down to the warehouse district or
anything like that, it’s kind of hard to tell. Um and with as much emphasis as we’re now putting
on North Macon the shops of Riverside, and things like that, which look great! And so for the
tourist coming in to town they say well “ Oh well Macon is just so pretty” yea your right, it’s
very pretty, until you get to hit 10 o’clock at night and then you can walk around in the parking
garages and see people sleeping everywhere. Um with the Cherry Blossom festival coming up
um the homeless people get a whole lot more pressure because the city officials don’t want to see
that.

I: And that is downtown.
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R: Exactly, so uh, and people get pushed out again. Then they’ll just come right back because
that’s what they do when nothing is being done to fix the problem.

I: And uh one more thing if you will, would you um mind going through the stereotypes that um
a lot of the homeless people get?

R: Sure, yea.

I: I just know uh that they face a lot of negativity.


R: Uh huh, yea, the homeless are all lazy and crazy that’s a big stereotype. Um, there all drug
addicts, their all alcoholics, uh they’re all mentally ill like I mentioned before. They all want to
be out there, that’s another one of those big ones. Um, all of them are single males, that’s not the
case, now uh yes a majority of them are, but that is not the case whatsoever. Um, there’s no such
thing as a homeless family. Um, none of them want to work, that’s another stereotype but I can
tell you that the working poor in America make up a large, a uh large percentage of the lower
class especially because when you look at minimum wage, which was increased anyway. If
you’re a single mother with one child, ah no, it’s either one or two children, I forget the statistic,
but If you’re a single mother with one or two children and your working forty hours a week at
minimum wage you still fall below the poverty line. It’s just not high enough. We have working
homeless people that are working forty hours a week, but they can’t afford anything. Ah, what
are some of the other stereotypes? Um, they all look dirty, they all have a beard, I get that one a
lot, kind of makes me want to shave. (Laughs) They uh, they fit the general mold of the           “
homeless guy”. Um they’re all uneducated, that’s another big stereotype that’s out there. I can
tell you uh, that there’s a professor living in one of the camps a former professor from Macon.
She taught English.

I: Uhh, I think a lot of times people don’t realize that there um is normally a horrific story or
something from these peoples past that has a huge effect on their um life now. Do you have a lot
of people, who um when they understand the reality of it, Um I guess I just know for me working
with homeless, um that we all have a past and to hear some of their stories is heartbreaking and
eye opening.

R: Yea, we uh, um that actually brings up another one. It can’t happen to me. I could never be
homeless; my family could never be homeless. That’s another stereotype that’s just out there that
is definitely wrong. There uh, there was a guy who was here, and he got kicked out but now he’s
back, because you can come back after a certain amount of time. Um, but when he was a kid he
was molested by his family members and um, but he moved through that, he got help with that,
and he was fine. Um, he had a wife and a daughter at one point and uh they were going to the
store, they asked him if he wanted to come and he said no he was all right, they got in a car
wreck and both of them died. Um after everything that had happened to him, it was enough to
send him spiraling into an alcoholic depressive state. Um, he wound up homeless, sometimes
people just snap, or pop and that’s all it takes. Things like mental illness, uh it’s hard to find
someone nowadays who doesn’t know someone with a mental illness, whether it be depression
or bi-polar disorder. So yea we see that a lot.
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I: Is there any final note that you would like to add to this?

R: No, it’s, it’s difficult, but it’s rewarding. Um, there’s definitely a roller coaster to activism.
Your very idealistic and you believe you can change the world, and then a couple months in you
realize that this is a whole lot harder than you thought it was going to be and you hit one of those
valleys, and um you just got to learn to pick yourself back up out of that really quick, or else you
just get really cynical. Um, but once you get back out of that you hit a happy medium and you
say “ well this is something, this is something that can be worth doing, but it won’t be an
overnight fix”.

I: Well I want to say thank you again for taking time out of your schedule to let me interview
you, it’s been um really interesting. Thank you so much.

R: No problem.

								
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