Say a prayer for you and me
If there are homeless in the city
None of us are free"
The Del Lords "Ashes to Ashes"
I work downtown in a mid sized Mid West city. My place of employment is only a few blocks from the homeless shelter. In the front of our building is a set of doors that we don't often use, set back in a deep recess. When it rains at night this makes a dry spot for someone to sleep. Someone who has nowhere else to sleep. It is a small comfort, if comfort is the right word.
In our city we combat homelessness very efficiently. Our zoning people come along and scour the bushes for bags containing blankets, jackets, maybe a change of clothes, and throw them away. These are people who have nothing, and we throw it away. Homeless people are still here.
There is an organization that offers homeless people a chance to sell newspapers on the street corner. I think the name of the paper is "Street Speech." The sales people receive a portion of the sales (if memory serves it is 65 cents) and the rest covers the cost of production. During my walks I always buy a paper, and if I already have one I just donate a dollar.
The people are polite and very grateful. In a way they are the epitome of small business and the American Dream. Working toward a brighter future, one dollar at a time. But, in most cases they might as well be invisible. People walk past them, as though they didn't exist.
On the television people talk about the welfare state, and abuse. And there is fraud, and there is waste, and it permeates the entire government operation. From the people who provide health care to Medicare and Medicaid patients, to the scammers who take extra food stamps, to the huge corporations that take tax breaks while earning obscene profits, to the military industrial complex that funnels billions of dollars into wasted, worthless weapons systems. Fraud and abuse is endemic in democracy. People can't be trusted.
On the television people talk about the charitable acts possible through the kindness of our communities, and help is not the responsibility of the government. Charity is the foundation of the community, they say. And I watch these people being ignored. And I see their gratitude when I buy a paper. And I wonder, is this the best we can do as a nation? And I am afraid it probably is.
And that is a troubling thought.