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Musicians and the Homeless

16th Street MallEveryone likes celebrity news, especially when it’s good, and House the Homeless has previously taken note of wonderful generosity from stars like Bruce Springsteen. We also mentioned Eminem’s patronage and mentorship of a homeless rapper called Yelawolf. The musician and activist known as Reverend Billy Wirtz supports the organization Picture the Homeless, whose motto is “Don’t talk about us, talk with us.”

Last May, it was announced that Lady Gaga would donate $1 million to homeless youth. Cyndi Lauper began the True Colors Fund in 2008, and the result is a shelter with 30 studio apartments specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are experiencing homelessness. Some of them anyway, for as the singer is quoted as saying:

In New York City, a very disproportionate number (up to 40 percent) of homeless youth identify as L.G.B.T. Even more disturbing are reports that these young people often face discrimination and at times physical assault in some of the very places they have to for help. This is shocking and inexcusable!

Back in 2006, Jon Bon Jovi started up the JBJ Soul Foundation, which feeds people and puts families into houses, and does a whole bunch of other stuff in several cities. Now the foundation has teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to create Project REACH.

It stands for “Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless,” and it’s a contest with a financial reward for whoever in the “developer community” can figure out how to make a national platform that can be accessed by the Internet and smartphones. The assignment is to supply complete and current information on shelters, housing services, crisis hotlines, legal assistance, VA services, health clinics, food kitchens, and any other resources, anywhere, anytime.

House the Homeless has often mentioned Austin in relation to its music scene, which has a long and impressive history, and the South by Southwest festival, and a whole lot more going for it. Among other things, the Austin Music Commission was supposedly represented on the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee, but then whatever work that group did was apparently set aside to await the results of an international design competition. The ongoing project will greatly affect what is locally called the Red River music scene, and it will also have a huge impact on the area’s people experiencing homelessness.

Like many other cities, Austin has heard objections to the presence of homeless people downtown because of the trash problem, which in the public mind is inevitably associated with vagrants. But… If Austin is anything like other college towns, a big part of the trash on the streets is contributed by students with an overweening sense of entitlement and not much genuine connection to the city they temporarily inhabit.

Where there are bars and clubs, there is litter, vomit, and urine on the sidewalks and in the neighbors’ azalea bushes. What pulls customers to those clubs is the music. So the blame for urban squalor can’t be solely assigned to the homeless.

In many citizens’ minds, both show business and the homeless are responsible for urban crime. Live music = night life = booze = drunk-rolling = fights = prostitution = stolen cars = hard drugs = police sirens = litter = homeless people. In a downtown area, especially on weekends, they’re all mixed up together. And musicians write songs about the homeless, like “Only a Hobo,” “Tramp and the Young Girl,” and hundreds more. Often, musicians are the homeless, especially in old age — if they make it that far.

Sure, at a certain stage, with the world at your feet, being technically homelessness might be the best career move. If you plan to tour for 10 months, why pay rent for an apartment? The road can also make someone unwittingly callous. A 21-year-old guitarist who sleeps in a band’s tour bus might not understand how the rolling-stone life is not so much fun for a 45-year-old woman veteran with diabetes and PTSD. In many significant ways, musicians are just like everybody else — sometimes uninformed or thoughtless.

The music scene has always been an environment where thinking was a little more enlightened than in the general population. When musicians meet, age, race, creed, economic status, and all those other tiresome barriers are totally irrelevant. Sure, the music subculture has always had its problems, but discrimination generally hasn’t been one of them. That’s how much power the music universe holds, and one of the ways to use power responsibly is by looking after the interests of society’s least fortunate. An outstanding example of this is New Orleans, where in the wake of multiple disasters, the musicians took care of each other and a whole lot of civilians, too.

In Los Angeles, a band called Avenue 52 has a music video project called “Homeless,” whose profits will partly go to local helping organizations. In Berkeley, Ace Backwords, who is himself a homeless musician, organized and produced several compilations showcasing the work of numerous street musicians.

In Denver, David Adebonojo, performing at the 16th Street pedestrian mall, attracted the attention of musician/producer Tyler Ward, who got his career going. In one way, as the son of the Ivy League-educated parents (a doctor and a minister), Adebonojo doesn’t match the homeless stereotype. In another way, he does, with his history of being an auto mechanic, a Deadhead, and an ex-con. After writing a quantity of music in prison, he was released to the streets, where he spent enough years to have half a dozen guitars stolen.

Let’s hope for perfect weather in Springfield, Missouri, on May 12, for the second attempt at raising $10,000 for homeless causes with a concert called “Stomp the Blues Out of the Homeless.” The promoter, Jim Payne, whose day job has something to do with escrow and land titles, tried to launch this idea last year, but the weather was impossibly foul and he ended up losing all the money he had put up to get the thing going. Better luck this time!

Homeless Media Bonus Link
The late comedian Greg Giraldo — “Underwear Goes Inside the Pants” — featuring many of Venice Beach, California’s homeless residents.

Reactions?

Source: “Cyndi Lauper Opens Homeless LGBT Youth Center In NYC,” The New Civil Rights Movement, 08/25/11
Source: “VA Launches “Project REACH” Contest,” VA.gov, 03/19/12
Source: “Los Angeles Based Pop Rock Band Avenue 52 Raises Homeless Awareness,” SFGate.com, 04/12/11
Source: “Denver musician David Adebonojo (Dred Scott) strikes a chord,” DenverPost.com, 08/03/11
Source: “Fresh start desired for blues festival,” News-Leader.com, 05/05/12
Image by bartlec (Chris Bartle), used under its Creative Commons license.