Here is a challenge for you; I want you to think about something in a different way. The next time you see a homeless person begging for change on the side of the road with a cardboard sign. I want you to ask yourself, could I do that? Could I stand on the side of the road in all weather and beg for money from strangers? It’s simple enough, all you need is a marker and a piece of cardboard. But if you’re homeless…you probably don’t have a magic marker, and you probably don’t have cardboard either. I’ll give you a tip, look at their shoes.
I can tell you these things because I was once homeless myself. I’d worked for twenty-five years without missing a paycheck then I went into business for myself. For three years I was successful, I was about to hire some part time help when the stock market crashed. My business dried up like turd in the sun and I began looking for work. Looking for anything that would help me get by. To make a long story short I ended up sleeping in a garage. I sold my truck; I couldn’t pay the insurance anyway and contemplated suicide. I’d been successful my entire adult life and now I was destitute.
Obviously, I didn’t go through with it not because I came to my senses but because I was a coward. I was afraid to fail. I was also too scared to stand on the side of the highway and beg. Don’t kid yourself…it takes guts. There are motorists who look away and worse still are those who don’t. They look straight at you with disgust like you are an alien or a monster. It reminds me of a story a friend once told me. He’d been hired by a sanitation department to ride on the back of a garbage truck. On his first day, a friend from high school pulled up behind the garbage truck in a new BMW and there you are holding on to the back of a garbage truck.
Homelessness will teach you a lot about the world and a lot about yourself. I filed for food stamps, and the office told me I should receive my card in three to five days. I had three dollars in my pocket, so I could have three, dollar cheeseburgers at Burger King or six Snickers bars at the drug store. I would walk to the library each day to use the computers. The library was filled with homeless, homeless salesmen, homeless contractors’ men and women whose marriage couldn’t stand the strain when the economy crashed. The old adage is true, when money goes out the door love flies out the window.
In Portland, they called it canning, the collection of cans and bottles for the five-cent deposit. Twenty to the buck and all you have to do is rummage through dumpsters, but it beats standing on a highway. I was hired as peon labor to paint a house in exchange for room and board. She stiffed me on Christmas Eve. This is a point that is driven home to you like a spike to the head, if you are homeless you are considered worthless. Why should you miss a Christmas party because you owe homeless guy thirty bucks?
It was one of the greatest educational experiences available to mortal man. To see the world without you in it. To see the world turned inside out and upside down and to feel yourself at one with the bottom side of humanity. Kelly Thomas was beaten to death on the streets of Fullerton, California. His crime? Hanging out by the bus station and why was he hanging out by the bus station? Because he was homeless and it was the only public restroom for miles. This is the real world! You have no place to wash yourself or to wash your clothes. I once found a tube of toothpaste on the street and stashed it in my bag; you can’t buy toothpaste with food stamps.
Forty percent of all homeless Americans have a job. Over one million children are homeless on any given night and we do so little. When forest fires ravaged California the President blamed the state. When an earthquake devastated Puerto Rico, the President blamed corruption. But in this case, I don’t blame the President, he’s just doing what everyone does blaming the individual for the crisis. Saddam, they said, had weapons of mass destruction. We spent trillions of dollars killed hundreds of thousands of people on a threat. General Motors teetered towards bankruptcy and the government moves in with baskets filled with billions in loans and goodies.
Twelve million homes were lost in the foreclosure crisis with four to a home that’s almost fifty million Americans out in the street and what was done for them…nothing! Because of minuscule wage growth and soaring rents Americans find themselves priced out of their own economy. The is what wage inequality is all about, living in an economy where millions can’t afford the basic essentials of life. The disgraced head of Boeing, Dennis Muilenberg recently stepped down. His severance package was $62 million dollars but the company was quick to add Muilenberg must forfeit $14 million in stocks and will receive no further severance.
Sixty million dollars and you’re done, so far Boeing has suffered eight billion dollars in losses and killed three hundred people and this clown walks out with a King’s ransom. Meanwhile, millions of American men women and children suffer, absorbing the blows and earning the scars that will never leave them. Their lives are negated, their dreams destroyed. I cried because I had no healthcare until I met a man without a home.
“You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.”