Street Sense Vendors Respond to Ben Carson

Gage Skidmore

During a May 23 Sirius XM interview with his friend Armstrong Williams, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson said the following:

“You take somebody that has the right mindset, you take everything from them and put them on the street and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there.  And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom…You know, that’s real poverty. If you don’t have a defeatist attitude, there’s hope for you. I think the majority of people don’t have that defeatist attitude, but they sometimes just don’t see the way and that’s where government can come in, and be very helpful. It can provide a ladder of opportunity.” 

Below are reactions from some of the men and women who work to distribute our newspaper.


An Invitation to Work Together

By Cynthia Mewborn

It would be a pleasant metaphor if poverty were “a state of mind.” Then humanity would only need to clear our minds and all of poverty around the world and within the United States would go away indefinitely. But you and I know that’s not how poverty was created. Nor would this be a realistic way to resolve a condition that has spun out of control over the last 40 years.

In order to solve poverty and homelessness we have to recognize that America has a very serious man made condition that will require human interventions to resolve. One of the driving forces behind the increase of poverty and the deterioration of American communities has absolutely nothing to do with the individuals who live within these systems. One class is oppressed in order for others to maintain stability. Ending these generational cycles of poverty will require old approaches by government and that starts with cleaning house.

Trillions of dollars have been wasted on services where the only people benefiting are the people providing the co-called service. Approaches that failed to contain homelessness twenty years ago certainly won’t end it now. We need fresh perspectives from the very people who are or who have experienced homeless. We need to overhaul all municipal service agencies, including administrators, supervisors and management teams, which have caused total disenfranchisement within these programs.

Destitute consumers who receive enough help to get off the street are too often forced to live in demoralizing and deplorable housing conditions. The only beneficiaries of these situations are slum landlords. When you seek government assistance, it feels as if you are treated as lesser than. Like you deserve to be abused — and nobody’s watching when you are.

This is the reason why our safety net programs appear to be broken, when in fact, the only thing that is broken is management. There needs to be accountability and it needs to be understood that the housing programs work, under the right leadership.

Dr. Carson, I ask you to take the homeless challenge with me and a few other homeless advocates: sleep outside with us for two nights in a row. See what it’s like.

Furthermore, please come have a real conversation with some of the very faces of homeless and impoverished individuals who have had to endure some of the most horrifying circumstances a human being could ever endure. This could be accomplished by coming to meet with our vendors at Street Sense (Metro Center) or attending a People of Fairness Coalition morning meeting at Miriam’s kitchen (Foggy Bottom).

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing your response and hopefully meeting you soon.

Cynthia Mewborn is an artist/vendor for Street Sense.


The Doctor is Out

By “The Anti-Apathetic”

Some time ago, Dr. Ben Carson, now U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (and who, by the way, couldn’t pass me the Pepto-Bismol, let alone perform surgery upon moi), voiced his opinion on the (lack of) intelligence of American voters. I responded that one of us needed a mental adjustment.

As evidenced then, during the confirmation hearing as questioned by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), about ensuring that then-president-elect Donald Trump’s family construction enterprises would not profit from housing production or related expenditures; and now with this “state of mind” utterance (for lack of a sympathetic term) he has, as they say, “removed all doubt!”

Poverty is a state of being, not a state of mind. Why? Because the former is not without resources, a roof, cash and food to feed children, etc. While the mind may hunger for emotional support, thirst for knowledge and even long for comfort, I doubt anyone out there struggling to stay afloat (or alive) is thinking, “Why don’t I plan to underachieve for life? That is the surefire route to my dreams come true!”

I suspect the good doctor has been affluent for so long that he doesn’t realize how hard the struggle is today for minorities, the disadvantaged and particularly those with children. It is no crime to be out of touch with reality. It is, or at least should be, a crime when you abuse your position to negatively impact others.

Lack is a place that, from my experience, is not created by thought — though sometimes by deed. Often the very deed that does it is when a credible authority figure conveys the message to traumatized or depressed people that they can’t — not unlike a certain public official.

Where Carson is concerned, I’ll grant him this: He has proven himself correct that he is not an administrator or a statesman or an empathic visionary with aspirations to end poverty. My diagnosis is that the doctor needs either a lobotomy, a heart transplant or an enema.


We Need to Want Out of Homelessness

By Damon Smith

Is homelessness a mindset? Yes. But getting out is not easy nor quick. But if you are proactive and not reactive, you can do it. You can expedite the process by having a case manager because they are aware of what you are dealing with and how to approach the situation, and hopefully get you the results you want. So, align yourself with outreach services, such as Miriam’s Kitchen and Friendship Place.

I am sure those services are among the best places in the country to seek help. The District also has a lot of resources of which to avail yourself, and because homelessness is seen as a mindset, we need to want out – and the best way to do that is to pray. Prayer is important.

Damon Smith is an artist/vendor for Street Sense.

The Characterization of Poverty

By Gwynette Smith

Dr. Ben Carson is a man I greatly respect. He is a heart surgeon and possesses a skill that is needed not only by adults but many children.

He did not want to become the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Apparently though, no one else could be found for the job. He might have wanted to return to the practice of medicine.

His own conflict about taking the job may have caused him to be less positive about what this new job was about. On the other hand, he grew up poor and lived in public housing and his childhood plight did not stymie his plans to become a physician. So he probably does have sympathy for people in impoverished situations and want to help them break out of their conditions.

Secretary Carson’s statement that with the right mind-set, a person can break out of poverty quickly, is false. There are many factors that contribute to being poor. These can include but may not be limited to: health, race, level of education, job skills or the lack of, a criminal record and/or a mental health problem.

Dr. Carson is already doing good things in his new job by helping people to purchase their own homes. One statement made by a person does not determine who he is. Clearly, if he grew up poor and became a doctor, the transition was not quick


It’s a State of Being

By Sheila White

Poverty isn’t a state of mind. We hear this more often than enough. But avoiding poverty comes at a price that no one wants to pay.

I believe we are the richest country in the world: we can eat what we want, sleep in our own beds and have clothes on our backs.

And that’s what made made us poor.

We treat debt as a state of mind and many choose not to pay out debts. We spend more than we have and debt becomes a state of being. You owe the car dealer and you owe on your house. Yet we still decide to spend more than we have. Poverty is something that can’t be helped in this environment and some countries have a higher rate of poverty than others. Washington spends billions on things we don’t want or need.

The people who run this country spend and spend. Our nation is in a state of poverty. The broader question is what are we going to do about it?

Sheila White is an artist/vendor for Street Sense.

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