Thinking a way out of poverty

December 21, 1993|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer

Can Baltimore's homeless think their way out of their plight? They're willing to give it a shot. After all, it worked for Doc Severinsen, Vikki Carr and the Chicago White Sox.

In an unusual partnership, a lecturer for the Texas-based Silva "mind control" method has offered the city's Homeless Union a 40-hour course that promises to unleash everyone's latent genius through the brain's beta, or unconscious, state.

"You can get that job, get that car, get that house you've been dreaming of," JoNell Monaco Lytle, of Virginia Beach, yesterday promised 50-plus union members at the downtown Enoch Pratt Free Library.

A few in the audience had already found the beta state, dozing through the orientation session. But others listened raptly to the rapid-fire pitch for Silva, a program developed and disseminated over the past 50 years by a one-time electronics repairman from Laredo, Texas.

Afterward, audience members agreed they had nothing to lose. Ms. Lytle has said she will waive her usual $500-per-person fee. All they need is a place, one large enough for the 100 people expected by Truxon Sykes, founder of the Homeless Union and a Silva graduate.

It's an unusual tack for an unusual group -- unemployed men and women, the homeless and one-time homeless, organized to protect the rights of the city's poorest residents. When Mr. Sykes first proposed the Silva course, at a union meeting 10 days ago, some members were hostile.

"What will this do to help people find housing, or jobs?" one

woman demanded angrily before stalking out. Yesterday, a few others also left during the presentation.

Jose Romero, in a telephone interview yesterday from Silva International headquarters in Laredo, said Silva makes no guarantees, but its techniques work if properly applied.

"It provides the tools," said Mr. Romero. "If the tools are used, these people will be successful. [But] we have experienced that when we give the program away, people don't benefit as much."

Silva boasts 10 million "graduates" worldwide, including entertainers, doctors and those 14 White Sox players who took the course in 1977. Silva claims its techniques helped the players raise their batting averages.

Because lecturers find their students and set their own fees, it's Ms. Lytle's decision to donate the course, a $50,000 value if 100 people show up. "It's my gift to the universe," she said yesterday, offering to start as soon as Sunday.

It was an offer appreciated by union members, for whom almost any price would be too high.

"You dangled this thing in front of me, now I want it," said Anthony Scott, 28, briefly homeless after a fire destroyed his home. He has a place to live now but is unemployed.

"It sounds like something that could benefit me," he said.

One man wanted to know about the effect of drugs and alcohol on the Silva system. Another asked if cigarette smoking interfered with the brain's ability to harness its innate power. Ms. Lytle said smoking did cut down on one's "alpha bursts" -- the subconscious state at which Silva's techniques are said to operate.

"But guilt is one of the most powerfully destructive forces in the universe," she assured the man. "If you go through this course and you don't give it up, at least you won't have any guilt about it."

A few, skeptical of the term "mind control," wanted to know if Silva was a cult. "Some churches give us a lot of flak," Ms. Lytle said. "But it's not mind control, really, it's thought control, controlling your own thoughts, not anyone else's."

The Silva classes are just the latest project for the newly energized Homeless Union, one of 26 such organizations nationwide.

Founded in 1985, the union was all but moribund by the early 1990s, largely because of Mr. Sykes' health problems. This summer, after dialysis and a kidney transplant, Mr. Sykes returned and began charting a new course for the organization.

At the time, there were just three members. Now there are almost 250 and the union's public profile has never been higher.

Members have squatted in vacant houses. There are weekly voter registration drives and, during the debate over the City Council's aggressive panhandling bill, there were weekly demonstrations outside City Hall. Today, the union will hold a vigil at Charles and Fayette, part of a national observance for the homeless dead.

Peter Sabonis, legal director for the Homeless Persons Representation Project Inc., says the Homeless Union's rebirth couldn't have come at a better time.

"If there's anything the homeless need right now, it's this visible presence that the homeless are not helpless," he said. "They bring a different voice to the debate, the voice of the poor."

Where does the Silva method fit in?

"It's enabled me go three or four days without sleep," Mr. Sykes offered as an endorsement, adding in a more serious vein: "If the members have any spark of self-awareness, it will help them a great deal."

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