Twelve days. For twelve days, disabled elders in the community where we work were stranded in public housing without a working elevator. A group of eight-story high-rise buildings, originally built in 1961 for low-income families, now house poor, disabled elders. Constructed before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these decrepit buildings have only one elevator each. Nowadays, this would be unheard of, but in the 1960's, I'm sure it wasn't given another thought. And evacuation plans were probably just a pipe-dream, with occasional lip-service to assuage the bleeding hearts and housing advocates.
Public housing authorities do not exactly have stellar reputations, and in this city of ill repute, where cronyism and corruption are seemingly imprinted on the city's official seal, stealing from the poor to benefit the undeserving rich has been de rigeur for decades.
A public meeting today in the local community room brought outrage, measured argument, cynicism, paternalism, the media, and politicking at its most tedious. The city councillors expressed their official outrage. The housing authority director pointed fingers and blamed the weather and the victims, claiming ignorance, poor communication, and any other excuse that seemed plausible. Those of us in the room who know the score are only hell-bent on making sure our seniors and disabled community members are provided for, heard, respected, and accomodated. It will be an uphill battle.
Whether we verbalize it or not, we all know that if this group of seniors had been white, with white families and connections in the community, this intolerable situation would never have mushroomed into the crisis it is today. Outrage certainly has its place, and enough outrage was expressed today to perhaps succeed in lighting some hot fires under a few choice buttocks.
Communication, cooperation, foresight, and meticulous planning are needed to overcome barriers which place the elderly, the poor, and the disabled at risk. Coupled with outdated architecture, bureaucratic stupidity, organizational chaos, and a lack of anyone willing to take enough responsibility for what went wrong, only a coalition of community leaders and key agencies can partner with the residents to effect change. Change may be organizationally painful, and there may be kicking and screaming along the way, but a snowball was pushed towards the top of a hill today, and one can only hope that it will continue to gather momentum and mass, crushing any bumbling bureaucrat who gets in its way.