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The Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award

written by Tom Armstrong

As people who read this blog frequently are likely to discern, I am skittish about area charities offering up honors and awards and things like Libby's Death Wall -- how ever much well-intended the prize or plaque or monument might be by the person or group that dreams up the idea of bestowing praise or remembrance.

I do recognize that often a homeless person or a charity or a publication might veer well outside its usual orbit and do something extraordinary that might seem very much to deserve a lot of attention or credit for doing something wonderful or brave.

Still. I am mostly against singling people or businesses or do-gooders out and placing them in the center of a spotlight.

The reasons for my iconoclasticism are, I think, these:
  • People should "do the right thing" without seeking praise. And, if a person truly does do what he or she feels is the right thing, then they don't want or need praise. Indeed, praise gets in the way. It's unwelcomed; a distraction.
  • Libby's Death Wall in the New Friendship Park seems to suppose that those who "died while homeless" would want to be remembered, for all time, for the period in their life when they were homeless. I think for most people, any period of their life when they were homeless was not their "best of times." Besides, the $200,000 that Libster supposedly raised for her Death Wall could have been much more constructively used to provide housing for living homeless people. Also, it is offense (I believe) for Libby to put people's names up on the wall without permission from the deceased before his/her death or, alternately, without permission after death from the closest relative.
  • Charity leaders and publications are just, merely doing their job when they write or publish something about homelessness that is extraordinary or interesting. Scribes and editors should just print what is true and should not be deflected into writing a bunch of ramped-up crap as a means of getting more attention or in seeking some sort of award.
  • There is already ample egomania in Homeless World. Awards of many sorts tend only to make life a competitive battlefield as opposed to being a platform where folks strive to do/perform/function as best they can.
While I do understand that Pulitzers and Academy Awards exist to lavishly offer praise, the prime element in why they exist is to sell books and magazines and newspapers and movie tickets.

I think that Sacramento Homeless awards and plagues and Death Walls will just, always, end up lavishing glory, solely, to the charities and their directors for the pretense of supposedly having golden hearts -- which, of course, will bring in more moolah from contributors who will think about things later and feel -- rightly? -- that they were conned.

The only thing that homeless charities should be offering is sustenance [in its various forms and guises] to a homeless person in advance of the happy day when he or she escapes homelessness to live a normal, healthy life.

* * *
Now. About The Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award.

Bob Erlenbusch, in response to my inquiry, tells me the following regarding a new, annual award that has come into being: The award, meant to be an annual award [given] on or around March 30 -- which was Russell Bartholow's birthday - [is presented] by Sacramento Regional Coalitian to End Homelessness.

At Erlenbusch's website there is this about the sponsors of the award:
It is sponsored by SRCEH. Co-sponsored by Elica Health Centers, Lutherin Social Services NO CA; Mutual Housing CA, Turning Point VOA, Wind Youth Services and Women's Empowerment.
I note that there has been another Sacramento award, called the Homeless Justice Award, that was presented by the Sacramento Housing Alliance to TLCS in 2015.

I believe I am correct in remembering that Erlenbusch was the director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance for perhaps a year before he and the Housing Alliance parted ways, perhaps two years ago.

There appears to be some confusion -- on my part, or as to precisely what the award is about, that should be straightened out.

People should know what being a recipient of the award means; how a winner is determined and what a committee or the award-giver thinks about during a process of finding a worthy award recipient from among a bevy of candidates.

In his Greelight column this week, SN&R publisher Jeff vonKaenel announces that SN&R is the recipient of the first Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award which comes with a plaque that he will hang with pride.

vonKaenel writes,
... SN&R was awarded the first-annual Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award, given to the media in recognition of homelessness coverage. Our associate editor, Raheem F. Hosseini, has written extensively about Sacramento’s homeless, and he edited John Flynn and Matt Kramer’s recent story about Russell Bartholow, a homeless man who, prior to his death, had racked up $100,000 in tickets related to his homelessness. ...

At the News & Review, we will hang our plaque with pride. But what we really want to see is more photos of our current mayor lifting big scissors and cutting more ribbons in front of new supportive-housing units.
It is an observation that I have made many times that the Sacramento News & Review is consistently  derelict in its homelessness stories in getting the facts right. SN&R, unlike the Bee, fails to talk to homeless people on the ground in its efforts to get information on homeless matters.

For the Sacramento News & Review to receive praise for its homelessness reporting is rather bizarre. This is a matter that I will pursue in a blogpost in the near future.


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