Saturday, February 14, 2009
Homeless in America
I spent a summer in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California two years ago. During that time I went to San Francisco for a week. I stayed at a hostel near the 'tenderloin district,' an area full of prostitutes, homeless people, drug dealers and drug addicts. Its not the safest neighborhood. I had the chance to meet a homeless person, he told me his story, which was quite sad, however I didn't know what to believe, I had a gut feeling parts of it were truthful, but I just didn't trust him. The next day I was walking near the financial district, it was extremely crowded, a totally different universe compared the quiet, remote mountains several hours away. As I was about to cross the street I nearly stumbled into a very dirty, grimy, unshaven man sitting on his legs, with his head resting on the ground, his arms were out straight with his hands folded, a small ratty piece of cardboard read: "Please help, homeless with AIDS." I have no idea if he was telling the truth, but the entire situation was incredibly overwhelming. People walking by in immaculate business suits and dresses, on cellphones or listening to music, tourists gawking at the buildings, no one more than glanced at him. I found it unsettling that humans could ignore each other in such a way. I wanted to yell. Tears came to my eyes and I just stood there, it was too much of a shock. I still wonder about this man, how he ended up there, praying on that sidewalk, if his sign was the telling truth, and how come he didn't seek real help, or maybe he has?
I generally do not give money (although I have and occasionally will) to homeless people. However, I do not think it is as simple to say that the homeless in America are just a bunch of alcoholics and druggies. The data does not support this assumption/stereotype. There is a large population of working poor/homeless in this country. The fact that you can work full time and still barely (not always) afford a place to live, or healthy food to eat is disturbing. You can work but still be homeless? There are also many elderly, the rural poor, the structurally unemployed, and divorced women.
What about the rest of the world? The structure of the global economy is widening the already enormous gap between the wealthy and poor.
According to the World Bank, "2.1 billion living on less than $2 a day and 880 million on less than $1 a day."
The cost of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is estimated to be about $40-60 billion a year. This pails in comparison to our military budget of $653 billion, or the $700 billion wall street bailout. This is getting a bit beyond the scope of this blog. I just wanted to rise an important, often overlooked issue.
Above is a photo of a homeless fellow in our nation's capitol, sleeping under the eave of a door in downtown D.C to avoid the rain. I took it in October of 2007 with a Canon 350D.