A Doll, A Square & Healthcare

James Shearer

1. Gwen, The Homeless Doll

           When someone first mentioned this story to me I thought they were pulling my leg, but low and behold it’s true. The American Girl Doll collection, which is owned by Mattel, is a big hit for its portrayal of little girls from all walks of life. Their latest addition is Gwen (for more, see the story by Shannon Moriarty, page 6 of this issue). At first glance she looks like your average doll but then you read her story, one of which accompanies all of the dolls, and you see Gwen is homeless. Her story is not unlike a great deal of homeless stories—she lives in a well to do neighborhood with her mom and dad, life is pretty good, then all hell breaks lose. Dad walks out and after struggling with being a single parent, Gwen’s Mom loses it. One thing leads to another and little Gwen and her Mom end up homeless and sleeping in a car. Sad. Now it seems this little doll and her story has caused some minor controversy but not the kind you may think. The rancor over this is coming from well to do parents who are outraged that Mattel is exposing their little girls—and thereby themselves as well—to homelessness. Well I say good for Mattel. The reality is that stories like Gwen’s are all too real. Homelessness doesn’t just happen to people living on Main Street, it also happens to those on Wall Street. It doesn’t take much to end up out there, just a wrong turn. Take for example the Globe article a few weeks ago about a former Boston police officer who now makes his address at Pine Street. Anyone can end up homeless. I can’t get over the fact that people are so upset over this doll, but then again yes I can. People don’t want their kids to see the realities of life. They’d rather have them live in their lilly white perfect world. You know, Mom, apple pie, and those ever annoying Leave it to Beaver reruns (Gee Wally, you mean homeless people really exist?). Yeah Beav they do. There are little Gwens all over this country and it’s time you, Eddie Haskell, and everyone else did something about it.
 
2 The Square
 
    A couple of weeks ago I came across a Boston Globe about Central Sq that talked about how much the place has changed and also about the strong police presence that recently has been sweeping the streets clean of drug dealers. I take my hat off to the CPD for these efforts. What bothered me about the piece is the willingness of some Square residents to attribute drugs and crime in the area to the homeless who frequent it. First of all let me say this: your garden-variety homeless person (If there is such a thing) doesn’t have time to peddle drugs. Their more immediate concern is where they can spend their day until Casper shelter opens at 4pm. I always hear Square residents complaining about homeless folks in the neighborhood. My question for those folks is this: where in the hell are they supposed to go? It’s not like the City has built a plethora of day centers for them, On the contrary The City of Cambridge has went to great lengths to gentrify Central Sq, not to just get rid of homeless people but to also discourage poor people from gathering there period. The Square no longer has that homey community feel to it that used to set it apart from the more yuppie atmosphere of Harvard Sq. Instead it most of its businesses now cater to the suit and tie crowd that seems openly suspicious and hostile to anyone who can’t afford a latte. The place is flush with yuppies who crowd Starbucks and shop at the Square’s more high end facilities. Even the Can-Tab has changed from what was a great neighborhood blues bar to one that fills up at night with screaming alternative rock well to dos who talk about the goings on in The Office TV show or what Paris is wearing. Most of the benches that used to sit at every storefront were removed years ago in a failed attempt to keep the homeless from congregating on them. Now shoppers who want to sit and take in the Square’s atmosphere can’t. The City in its zeal to make Central Harvard Sq East has robbed it of folksy charm. Yes there are a couple of good spots left, but overall Central Sq is gone, not because of the homeless but because of greed and stupidity. True that it’s no longer “mental square,” but at what cost?
 
3.Health Care
 
    As many of you know it’s Breast Cancer Month. I recently came across a story that upon reading both sadden and angered me. It involved a young woman who was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at 25. The thing that pissed me off about the story was how this young woman first found a lump in her breast and immediately went to her doctor and was told there was nothing to worry about. She continued to get sick so she sought attention from another doctor six months later, who informed her that she had stage IV Breast Cancer and might not live to see 30. Now I don’t know the whole story and I’m not a doctor, but I can’t help but wonder why this wasn’t caught the first time around. Didn’t the first doctor run tests? I’ve heard of cases like this, and in many of them doctors don’t run tests. What does this have to do with the health care debate, you ask? Well it’s a fact that sometimes doctors and Hospitals can’t or won’t run proper testing because they are bound to greedy HMO’s who simply refuse to pay for expensive tests unless you’re bleeding to death, and sometimes not even then. Now I don’t know if that was the case with the young woman from the story, but there are scores of stories of people out there who if they had been diagnosed earlier would have had a chance at a full and productive life. The maligned public option would address much of this problem, because it would force HMO’s to administer early testing or risk losing a patient to a government run option. And for those greedy bastards that would mean losing money, and they don’t want that. Hey I don’t necessarily want government-run health care either, but if it’s going to save lives sign me up. And you should too—lets work to stop the greed of HMOs. The lives of our mothers, wives, and daughters depend on it.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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