Truth Commission Puts Poverty on Trial

Commentary by Cindy Miller

   On July 15th, 16th and 17th, the Northeast Ohio Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign hosted this country’s first National Truth Commission to “put poverty on trial!” 

   For those not familiar, Truth Commissions provide a platform for poor and working people to tell their personal stories of the economic human rights violations they are experiencing.  

   Over the past year, member organizations of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign have held local Truth Commissions across this nation. Two were simultaneously held January 14, 2006 in Cincinnati and Cleveland.

   Unfortunately, due to health reasons, I was unable to testify before the National Truth Commission panel here in July.  I was so looking forward to participating as I did on the local level this past January at Trinity Cathedral.  

   After dealing with a medical community that is disinterested, inexperienced, poorly trained, unbelieving, and grossly uneducated about my medical condition, state and federal agencies with their fair share of poorly trained caseworkers, adjudicators and the like, and employers who resisted giving me reasonable accommodation under The Americans With Disabilities Act; I took advantage of the opportunity to vent my frustrations at the January platform.

   I gave my testimony primarily under Article 25-Section 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

   I spoke about how the symptoms and insufficient treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, subsequent loss of my well-paying job as a lithographer and denial of Social Security Disability Income lead to my homelessness.

   I spent six months at Community Women’s Shelter on Payne Avenue and was still a resident there at the time I gave my testimony.  I described my own personal experiences and observations both at the shelter and on the streets of Cleveland, noting that those with mental illnesses or those who are homeless are often treated like criminals.  I mentioned that those who voiced complaints at the women’s shelter may find themselves being taken to jail in handcuffs. I also said that homeless people living in shelters had difficulty getting jobs using the shelter address as home because of the overall perception that homeless people are not willing to work.

   On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (Resolution 217 A-III). Following this historic act, the U.N. Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.”

   Despite the adoption of the above proclamation, The Federal Medical Leave Act, The Americans With Disabilities Act and other so-called federally and state mandated “safety nets” designed to keep both those with disabilities and the caregivers of the disabled in the workforce by providing the right to work, the ability to obtain sustainable employment, or provide essential medical and financial support; the numbers of disabled who become homeless will continue to escalate as long as these mandates and laws continuously receive ‘a nose-thumbing’ from Corporate America and government.  (Editor’s Note: The UN Declaration of Human Rights was never ratified in the United States.)  The tax-dollars we paid to “insure” us against these possibilities were premiums on a failed policy.

   Daily, I participate in an online message board for those who suffer from the same medical conditions as myself.  I read posts from other group members from around the world, fearful of losing their homes and livelihood as a result of illness and inability to work.  Many face economic disaster waiting for their disability determinations from the Social Security Administration.  Local agencies also are not providing adequate assistance.

   This message board, like the Truth Commission, offers all of us the opportunity to vent our frustrations within the system as well as seeking support from others who are “veterans” in “the war” fighting to obtain adequate medical treatment, respect from doctors and the respect and benefits we are entitled to on state and local levels.

   I am still fighting for many of my benefits and I consider myself a survivor.

   Whether or not my testimony or the testimony of the thousands of others across the nation will result in change is yet to be seen, but the opportunity and empowerment I felt during my testimony before The Truth Commission in January, plus my association with The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless definitely made me feel whole again despite the obstacles I face daily.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 77 August 2006