By Sam Burnham
Right now, at this very moment, bureaucrats are discussing the future of healthcare policy in this nation. They are debating the merits and drawbacks of a sort of Frankenstein's Monster that we have created - a hybrid of big business and big government that is responsible for funding all of our well-being.
Anyone who has ever been denied coverage for a covered treatment knows the danger of trusting a large corporation with your health. Anyone who has been following the tragic story of young Charlie Gard knows the danger of entrusting the government with our health. Considering how much each of these relies on the other and how deep they are in each other's pocket, we're playing with a ticking time bomb and we're all going to lose.
There is a tendency on the Left to look to government and higher taxes to find all of the answers to every question in the central government. There is a similar tendency on the Right to allow the market to handle everything. But we find time and again that neither of these institutions ever seem to have acceptable answers to the major social issues of our time. Homelessness, healthcare, relief for the poor, education, none of these seem to improve no matter how much tax money or tax credits for businesses we throw at them. And yet we keep trying the same things over and over.
We deal so much with community here. Community is the small answer to so many huge problems. My personal doctor is in my community. I can walk to his office in a few minutes of leisurely stroll. There is a doctor, a nurse practitioner, and several nurses. But this is not a true private practice. It is incorporated with a regional hospital. While that is good that it is included in a network that includes specialists and a major medical center, it's not really part of the community. It doesn't allow my doctor to be one of those people that Mr. Rogers would include as "in your neighborhood." There is a corporation, complete with all standards and requirements, pages of paperwork each visit, and to send bills from some far off place to remind me that I owe money that my big corporate insurance company isn't going to pay because my lofty deductible still has not been met.
There is also, no fewer than a dozen churches within a similar distance to my home. They all have a tax-exempt status. They are fairly involved in our community, especially when they think it might draw the kind of attention that would result in higher attendance on Sundays. What I want to address here is the role that tax exempt organizations, including churches, can play in this. Few of the churches in my community are what I'd call extravagant. But there are many in the area as a whole that are quite extravagant. If instead of entrusting our healthcare services to the government, and big businesses, why shouldn't we tie the tax exempt status of these organizations to their level of investment in the community? As we see huge dining areas, acres of parking lots, arena-style worship centers, health club style gymnasiums, electronic message boards, these organizations have resources. But are they charitable? Do they benefit the community at large? It's just a question.
What other ideas can we find in our communities to help answer this problem? It is time to quit listening to Washington and the insurance industry as they are not interested in our well being. Neither of them are. We need to put our minds together and find ways to bypass corporate hospitals, insurance companies, and big government. The answers will be small and there will be many of them. Send us some feedback. Think locally, act locally.
By Sam Burnham
I got a bit of a shock the other day when I came across a Rome News-Tribune story that reported that there were over 700 students that were considered homeless in the Rome City and Floyd County school systems. Considering that these two school systems instruct approximately 16,000 students, that's roughly 4% of the student population that is homeless. This sounds like a small number but both of these systems have multiple schools with fewer than 700 students. Technically you could build a mid-sized school in one of these systems with 700 students. That got my attention.
But then my wife reminded me of the homeless student standards. On the first day of school, among all the other paperwork our kids brought home were forms to ask about the housing arrangements of students. These are the forms used to compile the data. There were questions about the parents being employed in agriculture. Questions about the permanence of the students' current living arrangements, and several more. This is how the homeless student totals are compiled. There is different criteria that classifies a student as homeless. So just because a student is classified doesn't mean they are sleeping in a car, a park, or under a bridge. The parent(s) may be migrant workers, there may be a living arrangement with friends or extended family, the students may be living in a county other than the one in which they attend school. So the numbers may be somewhat skewed.
That is not to say there is not a serious problem with homelessness in Georgia.
In 2014 the Macon Telegraph reported that neighboring Houston County had 327 homeless students during the 2013-14 school year. 63% of these students were living with extended family or friends. 25% were living in transitional housing such as motels or RV parks. 12% were living in shelters such as the Salvation Army Safe House or the Duke Avenue Homeless Shelter in Warner Robins.
There was also a 2015 story in the Tifton Gazette that discussed problems in Tift and Effingham Counties. The Gazette highlighted a group called Family Promise, a New Jersey-based organization that works alongside faith-based groups, mostly local churches and volunteers from those congregations. Families are housed in Sunday school classrooms that otherwise sit empty six days of the week. These families receive services that result, according the the Family Promise website, in 74% of the participants finding permanent housing arrangements. Family promise has programs in several Georgia counties, including eight that could be considered rural.
Rural counties in Georgia have a problem with homelessness. It may not be the type of homelessness we usually think about It's easy to buy into the stereotypes of homeless people living under bridges and begging for change in the shadows of Atlanta skyscrapers. It's another thing altogether to think of a kid trying to become an educated adult in a homeless shelter in Tifton or Rincon. That's not to downplay Atlanta's homeless problems, it's just pointing out the reality that it's not just a big city problem.
While there are people rising to the occasion and seeing success in helping people get back on their feet, it's frustrating to know that the economy in rural Georgia is struggling the way these numbers suggest, especially considering our recent story about agriculture is the top industry in Georgia. These rural counties are producing substantially to our economy but it isn't keeping the people who live in these counties out of poverty. And a drive through rural Georgia is often the only research you need to see that poverty is a problem there.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, a typical home in rural south Georgia was more than just a shelter for a family. The typical home was a self-sustaining organism in which a family provided for all their own needs. By today's standards it was still poverty, no doubt about that. But the family raised their food, built their shelter, provided their own entertainment, and, if times were good, had enough to sell or trade for a few luxuries. The humble house was often a one bedroom structure with a loft and a porch. The parents had the bedroom, the daughter slept in the loft away from predators and such, and the sons, if the weather was reasonable, slept on the porch. If the weather was less than cooperative, the boys slept in a common area in the house. The family all worked together to make sure the home worked. Again, not prosperous by our standards but they had a home.
It stands to reason that a century of economic and technological advancement would have improved this model to make it more profitable, more feasible, and more of a reality for the people of rural Georgia. But now we have families, often single mothers and their kids according to the statistics in the articles mentioned earlier, that find themselves in motels or RV parks trying to survive. Our economic model and the expectations of society have changed many homes into simple domiciles that produce nothing but what money can be gleaned from a paycheck earned by working for someone else, if they are fortunate enough to find work in such an economically challenged area. While reality means that not everyone can operate a small business or farm, why is it not a better option for people in rural areas? If Georgia is going to spend thousands of dollars on sports stadiums, worthless streetcars, recruiting programs for major industries, and who knows what all else, why can we not allocate better resources to educational programs to produce workers for our biggest industry? Why do we not work to change the stigmas and expectations within our society that work against the economics of rural Georgia? If we are living in a world of progress why do we find ourselves not progressing?
We need solutions. What we have been trying is not working. And if we consider that the answers to our problems with energy, medicine, food security, food deserts, and the supply of resources that our other industries need to thrive may all be lying in a fallow field in rural Georgia, then we are wasting time. It is ridiculous that the economy in our economic breadbasket is under-performing. That has to change.
By Sam Burnham
It wouldn't be the annual Georgia Road Trip without a full report. This year that report starts near the geographic center of the state.
In 1807, the state government, in its entirety, was packed into fifteen wagons and transported, with military escort, from the former capital, Louisville (pronounced "Lewis-ville"), and headed to the new capital, Milledgeville.
The town was named for former Governor John Milledge who proposed the idea of a more appropriate capital for the growing state. The town was designed specifically to serve as the capital and the squares were laid out with each having its own purpose. As the story goes, the crew sent to locate and survey the appropriate location found a spring and, after tasting from it, determined they had found the perfect spot and that spring was designated as the exact center of town. To this day, that spring still flows but access to it is not public and we cannot accurately report further on it.
So it goes.
The new capital city created the need for an appropriate home for the state executive. Georgia decided to construct a house that would reflect the status of power and influence that the state had achieved.
The mansion, to this day, is an impressive example of Greek revival architecture. I personally find it much more suitable for the role than its successor on West Paces Ferry Rd. Scheduling did not permit an inside look at the home but the curb appeal alone suggests that this building is what a state executive mansion should be and I look forward to a return visit.
As the antebellum capital of Georgia, Milledgeville and The old state capitol served as the location of the state's secession convention. the convention met January 16-19, 1861. Delegates including Robert Toombs, Alexander Stephens, the Cobb brothers, and Augustus Wright gathered in the house chamber to debate the issue. In what might be the greatest debate in state history, Stephens and Toombs found themselves in rare opposition. The two friends gave their arguments, Stephens against and Toombs in favor of secession. Stephens calm and calculated approach was unable to disarm the sheer force of the oration and personality of Toombs and secession won the day. Georgia left the union on January 19th.
After the war, it was determined that Milledgeville was too remote and too difficult to reach for it to be a good location and the seat of state government was relocated to the railroad hub of Atlanta. As that city has exploded in population and commerce, I wonder what impact the proximity of possible lobbyists has had on our government. While some studies suggest that smaller, more remote state capitals are more susceptible to corruption, it stands to reason that putting distance between the statehouse and lobbyists can never be a bad thing. The added charm and small town culture of Milledgeville could also help state government better relate to the areas of the state that have not been swallowed by the sprawl of Atlanta - the areas that house our agriculture and tourism industries.
For this reason, I think the state would be better off with the seat of government still in Baldwin County. This isn't going to happen under any circumstances and I have no delusions otherwise. But, for these same reasons, Milledgeville is an outstanding place to visit. We have barely scratched the surface of this area at this point and we will make a return visit.
In the meantime, if you make it to the Old Capital Museum, tell them we sent you, and let us know what you think!
The Georgia Road Trip continues....stay tuned!
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire