Florida Man Goes From Homelessness to Concert Hall

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

A: Practice, Live Homeless, Practice.

James Matthews is a remarkable young man. He plays a mean piano, as his recent Honorable Mention in the 2014 American Protege International Piano and Strings Competition proves. But, his story is even more inspirational as a demonstration of the valuable potential of people who end up homeless.

bildeMr. Matthews, as a struggling student, slept for a while in his instructor’s music studio. Under these less-than-ideal circumstances he persevered and  refined his music gift, ultimately achieving every musician’s dream: a gig at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Read his story here.

Irrational fear of homeless American citizens appears in many forms. We might glance away or discard a job application. We may say “Beat it!” or even call the cops. But, when it comes to locating a homeless resource center in an urban core, decision-makers frequently employ all kinds of arguments, some with hidden messages. Property values, crime rates and City image are often cited in the debate.

Sarasota is currently addressing the issue of homelessness; discussing the very services that could help individuals like Matthews. City and County officials are debating the pros and cons of various approaches to the problem, possible sites for a multifunction shelter and wrestling with budget concerns. Some people cite cases of increased police calls, data showing drops in housing prices and even the ubiquitous “Homeland Security” as reasons to locate a shelter anywhere other than their neighborhood. However, the trouble with using data alone to prove a point is that C doesn’t always follow A and B. For instance, a shelter was built in 2008. Property values in the area went down. Were the homeless to blame? Anybody who lived through the “great recession” knows  that’s just silly.

Does this mean that careful attention to the environmental and societal impact of site selection is unnecessary while dealing with the issue of homelessness? Of course not; no more than the reverse is true. On April 1, the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners “workshop” Q&A helped allay some of those irrational fears. Analysis of data by Dr. Robert Marbut and others over many years has stubbornly refused to predict a doomsday scenario despite rising numbers in some areas.

As we proceed, we would do well to remember the ultimate reality. Homelessness is not a crime.

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