Reaching for real solutions to real problems: health and homelessness in Mass. and L.A.

Silja J.A. Talvi

It's not difficult to give into an overall sense of hopelessness these days. I'll be the first to admit that I sink into those depths on a fairly regular basis. Even then, I'm not so much a pessimist as a very cautious and deliberate optimist. Like the other folks who work at/for this fiercely independent magazine of ours, I'm willing to give a damn now so that future generations can enjoy a better quality of life--mentally, physically, environmentally and politically. That said, it's a great thing to see substantial, progressive changes in the present moment. It's for this reason that I want to congratulate the Massachusetts legislature for becoming the first state in the U.S. to provide the closest thing to universal health care coverage that we've seen. The health care bill passed yesterday; the state's Republican governor has clearly indicated that he will sign it into law. Critics of the bill have pointed out that the buy-insurance-or-else model is far from perfect--and there's still legitimate concern about how the lowest-income Mass. residents will fare--but the general sentiment is still that this is a huge step in the right direction. Political candidates in 2006, please take note: maybe tackling universal health care isn't so scary, after all. (If you want to experience *real* fear, try being one of the 46 million Americans without health insurance.) And on the not-so-scary note, here's a big round of applause for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for approving a new, $100-million strategy yesterday to tackle one of our greatest embarrassments: widespread homelessness in America. Although the L.A. County plan still faces hurdles in implementation, the money will go toward the establishment of five county centers capable of providing large-scale temporary shelter, counseling and other social services for men, women, and families. If you've ever walked through L.A.'s massive Skid Row, you'll know why this is so important: the scale of suffering there is immeasurable and inexcusable. San Francisco, New York, Houston, Chicago, etc., take note: it *can* be done. Here in Seattle/King County, we've already passed a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness that has widespread support but not enough dineros to back it up. I'm hoping the L.A. County example might just give innovative plans like ours the necessary (ideological and fiscal) push to help make them a reality.

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Silja J.A. Talvi, a senior editor at In These Times, is an investigative journalist and essayist with credits in many dozens of newspapers and magazines nationwide, including The Nation, Salon, Santa Fe Reporter, Utne, and the Christian Science Monitor.
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