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We have lots of vivid sayings to indicate things we don’t like —“out of sight, out of mind,” “dirty as a pig,” and “ugly as a mud fence,” to name a few. One I’ve been thinking about lately is “sweep it under the rug.” It sort of brings all my examples together: If something is dirty and ugly, and we want it out of sight, we can just sweep it under the rug.
You may think this is an odd — maybe an irrelevant or nutty — introduction to a column about what makes a community progressive. But if, as the old saying goes, you’ll just hold your horses, I’ll explain why it’s really as obvious as an elephant in the room. Or as the nose on my face.
Some of our city leaders can talk endlessly about what a progressive community Durant is. We’re bringing in new businesses and new jobs. We’re building new houses and remodeling old buildings. We’re on such a roll that we may turn tacky old South Ninth into a fascinating art district.
A couple of topics some of these talkative city leaders don’t like to talk about are hunger and homelessness. True, it has looked like we’re owning up to the presence of hunger and homelessness. There have been public meetings and articles in the Daily Democrat about both.
Yet the old impulse to sweep it under the rug persists in some folks in town. Several times, I’ve heard people who’ve read a story about a homeless shelter say, “Look here — Durant’s getting a homeless shelter — that’s one problem we don’t have to worry about any more.”
People who say things like that are kidding themselves. One little shelter is going to house all the area’s homeless? Get real! There are more homeless people in our community than the new shelter can take in. There will still be homeless people.
What about the hungry people?” There are some fine sources of help around — food pantries and nutrition sites. However, there are many hungry people — not homeless but living in homes where cupboards are bare — who don’t get the help available. Some are too old to get to the available food, and others are disabled.
Although there are good, honest people who acknowledge that hunger and homelessness are in our midst, there are still those who want to sweep it under the rug. They don’t write about it in the grant proposals or talk about it at civic clubs. There are others who complain that the homeless resting and eating in the snack-bar area of the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center are an “eyesore” and “stinky.” Some get law enforcement to run them out —“We don’t want them here.”
Out of sight, out of mind.
Once again, as before, they must be reminded that a progressive community is more than an economic steam engine. It is a community that takes care of both the economy and the people. And, like it or not, some of these people — our own people — are hungry and some are homeless.
A progressive community takes care of the homeless and the hungry.
A progressive community takes care of both its economy and its people — all its people.
Plain as the nose on my face.
Joe Littlejohn is Co-Director of the Bryan County Coalition Against Hunger. He writes two newsletters, one for people who depend on the County’s free food sources and the other for the Bryan County Democratic Party. He is retired from Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where he worked 27 years as Professor, Chair of the Department of English, Humanities, and Languages, and Dean of the School of Arts and Letters.