“A voice made for TV and radio / proclaims / the advent / of that better world . /In the real world, / the man on the street / huddles against the cold, / feeding on the scraps of yesterday’s promises, / awaiting the dawn of a tomorrow / just as cold / as yesterday.”

Thus commented David Harris in Street Sense, a monthly newspaper by and for the District’s homeless.

In an editorial last Wednesday, the New York Times editorial board wrote that “the subway is. no place for the homeless, and it’s a sign of the [transit] system’s shaky state that hundreds of people have been allowed to live in its grapevine of tunnels and passageways.”

The editorial came in response to a fire that will cripple the A and C subway lines for several months. A homeless person seeking warmth probably started the fire, which grew out of control and consumed a subway control room.

The Times’ editors are right. The subways are no place for the homeless to live. Neither is Union Station or the oasis of heating grates along New Jersey Avenue. And no one should be sleeping on the steps of the Asbury United Methodist Church, where a man froze to death a few years ago.

But that America’s newspaper of record could cover the subway fire and find no deeper issues to discuss than the hassle to riders and the shortcomings of the city’s transit authority says a lot about the Old Gray Lady. And that no outraged readers’ responses were published says a lot about us.

Unfortunately, this is not just a New York thing.

On Friday, Mayor Anthony Williams announced a ten-year plan to eliminate homelessness in Washington, D.C. The city’s current efforts focus mainly on emergency shelters, and the mayor hopes to shift the attention to long-term support and housing programs. A laudable plan that may succeed, but one that is nearly identical to a federal program announced 12 years ago. That plan fell victim to overpromises and underdeliveries – frankly, there just isn’t a hell of a lot of political pressure to help the most destitute (and least likely to vote).

The 6,100 people homeless in the District would probably agree with Mr. Harris that the politician’s better world comes slowly and that Washington’s icy winds still pierce like a needle. This won’t change for a decade even if Williams’ optimistic plan is completely successful – and to be successful the mayor’s words will have to be followed up by an unprecedented level of action.

In the meantime, if you’d like to get off the sidelines, buy a copy of Street Sense, the newspaper I quoted above. Copies are available from street vendors outside many area Metro stops, and subscription information is can be found at http://www.nationalhomeless.org/streetsense.

The paper is an ingenious idea. For just a buck you get a 16-page briefing on the present situation of the homeless, told largely through their own eyes – the eyes of people who have far more experience with the issue than the fleeting glimpses experienced by people like me and the editors of the Times.

And, for every paper you buy, the vendor receives 70 cents – or an average of 50 dollars a day from sales. Vendors earn more than they would in a day of work at McDonalds, and their work spreads the voice of people who are all too often ignored.

And instead of this column’s inadequate words, you can read poet’s thoughts:

“I am too proud / for a place / in this ragged queue / of weary, defeated men / awaiting a daily ration of thin gruel. / … / Yet here I stand / faceless / amid a bag-laden crowd / and as my turn arrives, / a smiling volunteer / doles out a sandwich / of last week’s meat / on yesterday’s bread / for as this nameless day / fades / into a crisp cool evening / hunger / conquers / pride.”

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