The human experience is incomplete without proper perspective.
Perspective can put a positive spin on a seemingly negative situation.
This week’s Major League Baseball standings provides a perfect example. Going into Tuesday night’s action, the St. Louis Cardinals had exactly the same record as last year’s team. Last year, the Cardinals trailed the Chicago Cubs by 17 games.
For Cardinals fans, that’s terrible.
Add a dose of perspective — this year the Cubs are winning at a more pedestrian pace. With the same record as last year, the Cardinals are just two games out of first place.
Unfortunately, perspective doesn’t always burnish a negative situation.
That was made crystal clear this past week in a story written by The Southern Illinoisan’s Molly Parker. The story compared conditions of public housing in Cairo to a similar complex in Paducah.
For the past several months, The Southern has detailed the squalid, unlivable conditions faced by residents of the Elmwood and McBride public housing complexes in Cairo. The housing units are vermin infested, are inadequately heated and cooled and are in generally ramshackle condition.
Seeing fellow Americans, fellow Southern Illinoisans, living in this kind of government-supported squalor should cause all of us to simmer with anger.
Parker’s story, published in Tuesday’s paper, turned the simmer into a full-blown boil.
Paducah is home to another Elmwood housing complex. The units are clean. There are functional utilities. The building exteriors are freshly painted and inviting. Residents don’t compete with mice and roaches for living space.
The two housing units were built in roughly the same time frame, although the complex in Cairo is about 10 years older. As the Southern’s story indicated, the buildings are both an hour, and a world, apart.
It has been clear for some time that the Cairo public housing complex has been mismanaged badly. The perspective added by the comparison to Paducah’s Elmwood units shows the nearly inconceivable depth of that mismanagement.
The well-being of residents of Cairo’s Elmwood and McBride housing complexes is obviously the primary concern. Fortunately, their plight has been spotlighted, drawing the attention of local politicians, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth as well as HUD secretary Ben Carson. Sen. Duckworth, in particular, seems to have taken a personal interest in the situation.
“It seems unfair that the people who are here now have to suffer the consequences of the mistakes made by others,” Carson said.
That sentiment, although appreciated, seems blatantly obvious.
It is equally obvious that rectifying this situation goes beyond improving the living conditions of current residents of the Elmwood and McBride units. Once again, with the aid of perspective, it is clear that well-managed public housing can be adequate, comfortable and even an attractive option.
HUD needs to conduct and exhaustive study as to how and why the Cairo units were allowed to degrade into squalor. But, Parker’s story shows the mismanagement goes beyond the local level. The Cairo units were, at times, given high marks by HUD’s regional inspectors — a mind-boggling fact.
It is clear that an internal investigation is insufficient.
The neglect and indifference shown rises to the level of criminal misconduct. The current and past residents of the Cairo housing complexes deserve a criminal investigation. Someone needs to be held accountable for the unthinkable conditions that have been inflicted on our fellow Southern Illinoisans.
This is truly a shameful moment in Southern Illinois, and American, history. About 20 percent of Cairo’s population live in the Elmwood and McBride complexes. What we have witnessed, are witnessing, is local and federal government inaction leading to the dismantling of a community.
There is no perspective that will burnish that fact.