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Poor are ‘de facto non citizens’, says US author
By Damir Govorcin
The poor in our society “are de facto non citizens”, says American journalist and author Earl Shorris (pictured).
“You have to hurry when you’re poor, to stay alive, to stay afloat,” he says.
Mr Shorris, who was visiting Sydney to assist the St Vincent de Paul Society in developing its residential program for the homeless at Charles O’Neill House, was speaking on the topic Education in the hands of the restless poor.
The American writer has developed an innovative approach to education for homeless people and others living in poverty.
Through a partnership between Bard College and the Roberto Clemente Community Centre in New York, Mr Shorris began the Bard Clemente course in the humanities in 1995.
In his book Riches for the Poor, he writes: “The Clemente course begins with the idea that the poor are human and that the proper celebration of their humanity is in the public world as citizens.
“To see the Clemente course as no more than a college preparation program for underprivileged people would diminish the celebration of the humanities and the possibilities of the human spirit that are the joy of the work.
“Will the humanities make you rich? Yes, absolutely; but not in terms of money - in terms of life.”
The humanities are the “most practical education anyone can receive”, he says.
“Education will change the world.”
The Clemente course is now operating in more than 30 locations in the US, Canada and Mexico.
It is also a component of the Charles O’Neill House program conducted by Vinnies, which also helps homeless men to become rich in the humanities.
Residents study archaeology, art and history and are taught and encouraged by staff from Sydney Grammar School and Ultimo TAFE.
Like Charles O’Neill House, the Clemente program works to break the cycle of homelessness.
“The humanities enable you to think of things that have not been thought before,” says Mr Shorris. “They stimulate creative thought and make life less mechanistic.
“The humanities are a foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you.”
He says the “busiest people in the world” are the poor.
“People who are busy don’t have time to think and to rationalise,” he says. “Once you start reacting and start to reflect, the political life is open.”
Around 55 per cent of people who start the Clemente course finish it, while 60 per cent of those immediately go on to college.
Many people find work on completion of the course.
Charles O’Neill House in Sydney places the emphasis on long-term help.
The program is about learning - learning to be healthy, learning to get along with each other, learning to manage anger, learning to cook, clean and shop, learning job skills and managing money and learning to be independent.