Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tim Hobson Sings The Unholy Blues.

Some friends over at Emerson College just finished a project on homeless artists, and our very own Tim Hobson was among those profiled!

Head over to Beyond Bread, the project's website and read Tim's story and listen to his song. This man is a musical genius and we're proud that he's a part of our family.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Opie & Anthony Churn Under Homeless Limelight

Opie & Anthony, New Jersey's shocking jocks.

Yesterday we received a press release about Opie & Anthony, the network shock jocks who inherited Stern's airtime, and their upcoming and apparently annual Homeless Shopping Spree. We'll let you read it so you can see what the hullabaloo is about:

For Immediate Release Contact: Matt Noyes

December 14, 2006
mnoyes @ ahc.org

Dehumanization Has No Place On Boston Radio

This coming weekend, WBCN Boston is planning to broadcast an event that degrades and humiliates homeless individuals for the perverse amusement of the listening audience. The AIDS Housing Corporation is calling on concerned persons to contact WBCN to urge them not to broadcast this disgusting spectacle.

On Saturday, December 16, radio disc jockeys Opie (Gregg Hughes) and Anthony (Anthony Cumia) will broadcast their annual “Homeless Shopping Spree” at the Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, New Jersey. The “Opie and Anthony Radio Show” is a nationally syndicated show, broadcast locally on WBCN Boston (104.1 FM) and nationally via satellite on XM Satellite Radio.

The so-called Homeless Shopping Spree, which has been held on a number of previous occasions, takes several homeless individuals from New York City and transports them via bus to a shopping mall in a local affluent community. During the trip, Hughes, Cumia and their cohorts provide alcohol to the homeless persons, give them degrading nicknames such as “Tippy Tom,” “Sperm,” and “Buttered Roll,” and generally ridicule them on the air.

Hughes and Cumia’s listeners are encouraged by the radio hosts to give the homeless men money in order to get them to shop at the high-end retail stores in the mall. The men are recorded both with audio and video equipment in the mall and are given a constant supply of liquor.

According to the December 14 broadcast of the Opie and Anthony Radio Show, well over 2,000 persons are expected at the Short Hills Mall to witness the degradation of these men.

A very disturbing online account of a past Homeless Shopping Spree is at http://tinyurl.com/ydjt9h.

There are many disturbing parallels to be made between the Homeless Shopping Spree and the so-called “Bum Fights” video series. In both cases, homeless individuals are portrayed as existing only for the amusement of others and are subjected to extreme humiliation.

Currently, WBCN Boston is planning to broadcast the Homeless Shopping Spree live on Saturday December 16 at 2:30 pm in addition to a scheduled re-broadcast on Monday, December 18 from 6-9 am.

Please contact WBCN at 617-746-1400 and ask them not broadcast this disgusting and disturbing event on their airways.

# # # #

Matt Noyes
Community Advocacy Coordinator
United Disability Housing Partnership /
AIDS Housing Corporation
29 Stanhope Street; Boston, MA 02116
617-927-0088 x26

We forwarded the release to a friend of SCN who is also an Opie & Anthony fan. Here's what he had to say about the event:

In theory I am all for the Homeless Shopping Spree. In execution, I don't know.

Opie and Anthony have a history of this sort of thing; homeless people have appeared on their show before, some frequently. I am not going to say they are always treated with respect, but what needs to be borne in mind is that the listener does not have all the facts, despite the presented illusion to the contrary.

For example - a man named Homeless Andrew was featured on their show recently; he had purchased a coffee cake, and hadn't eaten any yet. He offered some cake to Opie and Anthony; Opie then put the cake on the ground and jumped on it. This, I think, was a lot more dehumanizing than the shopping spree, but at the same time, the listener isn't privy to everything. In other words, there's every chance it was a work - but who knows? In a venue like radio, the illusion is the reality, pretty much. A lot of their stuff makes me laugh - I'd even say most of it does - but I just couldn't find that funny. Apparently Andrew was initially upset but then held no grudge - so it becomes an issue of if he doesn't care, should someone else? And I don't have an answer to that.

Just some background, I suppose. Anyway, onto the spree.

I think Noyes is missing the point of the spree, and the joke behind it; the spree is a joke not at the expense of the homeless people shopping, but at the expense of the rich people who typically patronize the place. I personally think that, on its face anyway, it's brilliant. When it was done in 1999, the mall closed several of the more upscale stores and eventually kicked the homeless people out, which leads one to wonder what exactly they were doing wrong besides "not being our kind of people."

On its face it reminds me of when Joey Skaggs organized bus tours for hippies through the suburbs of Queens. It delineates class borders in ways we don't think of - that there are folks who consider some sections of society to be, essentially, Untouchables, in the caste-system sense. We're comfortable enough just pretending homeless people aren't there as we walk by, but when they invade our territory (as we perceive it), the cops get called, even though they have every legal right to be there. Legally, there should be no difference between us and them, and yet there it is.

I think it would be much more interesting, though, to do this in advance, without huge crowds, and broadcast the results after the fact, so that there would in fact be nothing the police could really do. As is, something like two thousand people show up, I believe.

Now - does that mean the homeless people won't be made fun of by Opie and Anthony? Not at all. But I think it's worth noting that, either way, the homeless in the equation will be treated with more respect than the rich shopping-mall patrons.

All told, I think it's going to be a fascinating bit of social commentary that will bounce off the heads of most people who hear it - maybe even the hosts as well - but judging by Mr. Noyes' press release, it's already bounced off some other heads too.

What do you think, dear readers? Well-intentioned spoof or dismal mockery?

Monday, December 11, 2006

The tale of Kenneth O'Brien

Reprinted from our September 28 edition, the story of homeless bookseller Kenneth O'Brien, and his battles with a city over the right to make a living.

Bookselling Homeless Man Beats the Odds
By Paul Rice
Spare Change News

CAMBRIDGE – After enduring multiple arrests and vaulting numerous (and potentially unconstitutional) legal barriers, a native Cantabrigian who is homeless, finally won the right to sell used books in Harvard Square.

“All of the obstacles melted,” said newly permitted bookseller Kenneth O’Brien. “They knew they were wrong.”

O’Brien was arrested twice over a two month period for selling books without a permit on the sidewalk at 1324 Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square. The first case against him was dismissed, but was arrested again when he set up shop the next day. At his second arraignment, O’Brien was assigned a defense attorney named Daniel Beck, an unusual move considering the charges O’Brien faced didn’t carry a jail term.

“My guess is the judge thought it was an interesting enough case, and Mr. O’Brien needed a lawyer,” Beck told Spare Change News.

O’Brien and his associate Gary Kibler, who was alsos arrested in June for selling books without a permit, provided Beck with numerous court cases they felt proved they should be allowed to sell books without an expensive permit from the city.

The city continued to arrest them for not having the proper permit. However, O’Brien believed the permit the city instructed him to acquire did not apply to his circumstances. It required a $5,000 surety bond as well as $1 million in liability insurance to be approved by the city, fiscal requirements that didn’t bode well for a man who lives on the street with his family.

A glimmer of hope for O’Brien came in the form of an old Cambridge ordinance, entitled “Peddlers”. The ordinance reads: “No person shall place or keep any table, stall, booth or other erection, in any street, public place or any sidewalk, for the sale of any merchandise, without permission from the Superintendent of Streets. The fee for the permit set out in this chapter shall be fifty cents.”

This was the perfect permit for O’Brien’s business. There was only one problem: no one in the city’s bureaucracy knew about this ordinance, or how to apply for the peddler’s permit. Even Superintendent of Streets Bill Dwyer had no clue what the permit was, even though according to the ordinance, he was in charge of giving them out.

Gnomon Copy in Harvard Square helped O’Brien print out hundreds of pages of case files he eventually submitted to his attorney. Beck then filed a motion of weighty determination with the judge:

“The defendant hereby moves this Court to dismiss this case. In support he states that he was engaged in constitutionally protected activity, and that therefore there was no probable cause for the arrest.”

The judge ruled in favor of the dismissal about three weeks later, leaving O’Brien feeling vindicated and hopeful.

“The fact that they had no probable cause to arrest me was in black and white,” he said, smiling.

But whether or not Cambridge police would arrest him again if he tried to set up his stand remained to be seen.

O’Brien went to the Cambridge police station in Central Square and inquired at the front desk whether he would be arrested since he now had a dismissal that clearly showed they had no right to take him into custody in the first place.

The police sent him over to the City Solicitor’s office in Cambridge City Hall, who could not help him because the lead solicitor was unavailable. He went to Mayor Reeve’s office with the dismissal and inquired as to what his best course of action would be. Staff in the mayor’s office explained that the mayor of Cambridge has little to no political power and that he should try the City Manager’s office. Making his way to that office, he started to feel a bit loopy.

A staff member in the City Manager’s office looked at his dismissal and listened to O’Brien’s story; the books, the arrests and the enigmatic permit. She made a call to the City Solicitor’s office and discovered that in fact the lead solicitor was available, and would see O’Brien. He returned to the office he started in and immediately received an audience, and, to his surprise, a peddler’s permit.

The permit he sought for more than 85 days suddenly fell into his lap. The next morning it was signed and approved by Bill Dwyer. A homeless man won a victory over an entire city’s bureaucracy, earning the right to sell books on the Harvard Square sidewalk.

O’Brien’s business, which he officially named “Almost Banned in Harvard Square Booksellers”, has now been in operation for four weeks. At the outset, Cambridge police would routinely stop at his stand and ask whether he had a permit to be there. He willingly shared his laminated copy with anybody who asked. Police interest has since died down, and his stand quickly became recognized by Square denizens as a legitimate business.

“Everybody in the community who’s known about this has been walking up to shake my hand,” O’Brien said. Now that his business has an official name, O’Brien is looking for more ways to link arms with the local business community, namely the Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA).

“The objective of the HSBA is to promote commerce and commerce comes in a lot of forms,” says Denise Gillson, the organization’s executive director. “I think the board would be generally supportive of this kind of enterprise.”

As of press time, O’Brien had received an application for membership from the HSBA and hoped to be a full member within a month.

As for other booksellers in Harvard Square, O’Brien initially expected to meet resistance. As it turned out, he found himself and his business welcomed.

“We welcome competition,” says Alan Powell, corporate general manager for the Harvard Coop. “If anything, we need more bookseller competition. That’s what Harvard Square is traditionally known for.”

Harvard Book Store, O’Brien’s closest bookselling neighbor, agrees.

“We do acknowledge that the bookstand in question is competition,” wrote Frank Kramer, owner of Harvard Book Store, in an email to SCN. “Harvard Book Store deals with competition every day – we compete with the Harvard Coop/Barnes & Noble, with Raven Books, among others. Competition keeps us on our toes, and encourages us to be the best bookstore we can be.”

O’Brien believes he can be stalwart competition, but he’s not looking to put anyone out of business. In fact, he’s hoping to put some people in business as he looks for ways his bookstand can give back to the community he grew up in. He set up importing networks among local homeless people, and even brought in some of his friends, homeless and not, to help him run the table for a share in the day’s profits.

“I especially want to work with the longer-term homeless, not the kids,” he told SCN. “Being older and homeless is two strikes against you right there.”

He sees the potential for a new street economy to arise centered around his activities, an economy that may benefit all those living on the streets of Harvard Square.

“What better than to give back to the streets, where I’ve come from myself,” he said.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Seriously dude, what are you thinking?!

A convicted murderer of a homeless man in Florida is appealing his sentence, because he says jail is just too hard.

Sympathy rating = 0.00

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

12.7.2006 Edition of Spare Change News

We're really sorry that Governor Romney made the cover two weeks in a row. At least he's below the fold, right? You'll forgive us. It's also a funny picture of Romney. Since he's so rarely in town, we can never get a shot of him in action, so we're left to use this, his official public domain mugshot of joy.

Due to a busy holiday schedule, your usual updates on new issues may come slowly and haltingly. Our editorial staff wants to go home for the holidays (home happens to be on the other side of the country so it's a long walk), so you may notice a blogging deficiency. Apologies in advance. Not that we ever blog in here anyways. But you know, just in case.


The Road to Recovery: How "Jesus Land" author Julia Scheeres overcame fundamentalism

Julia Scheeres, acclaimed author of "Jesus Land", talks about her experiences growing up in a southern family as a blonde girl with two adopted Black brothers, as detailed in her memoir.

Dark Humor Brightens Life in New Orleans

Stand up comedy is alive and well in and around the flood-battered city. People are learning how to laugh at a situation that seems to defy humor.

There's more. Buy it. We've had a long day and this week is only going to continue. Hopefully you're doing ok.



Friday, December 01, 2006

Spare Change Vendors Photography on Display!

This Saturday, December 2, please note that photography by several of our vendors’ (Jude Norman, Ramram Abdellah, Charles Gatewood, Charles Stallings, Phil Taylor) will be displayed in the Fourth Annual “Faces of Cambridge” Photo Gallery, held by the Cambridge Student Partnership. The event will benefit the CSP and their clients, the low-income residents of Cambridge.

“Faces of Cambridge”
December 2, 2006
Harvard-Epsworth Church
1555 Massachusetts Avenue
1-7 p.m.
Free admission!

Hope to see you there!