December 3, 2006
Comfort the disturbed.
I feel like I'm back in the Reagan 80s, when the President and Edwin Meese claimed that most street people chose their situation and went to soup kitchens because they didn't want to pay for their meals. At the time the Reagan Administration was making these claims, one third of the homeless were estimated to suffer from serious mental illness, another 25-50% had alcohol or drug abuse problems, and most of the rest were jobless or displaced by the gentrification of the inner cities -- the "new poor".
I don't think things have changed much, and I hear the same "get a job" or "giving to the homeless just perpetuates their situation" arguments now, from both predictable and surprising sources. Where does the solution begin? I don't have an answer. Between the sham of faith based initiatives, scandals within groups like the United Way and political indifference to a class of people who, after all, never vote, who is left to make a difference?
I have no idea how to fix the problem. All I know is that while we as communities and as a government are letting the poor and broken of this country fall through the cracks, as individuals we're touched, we feel, and in doing so, we reach out in our big-hearted and inefficient ways and we try to help. Remember the tsunami, or Katrina? Do you remember how feckless the government responses were but how generous the private citizens of this country showed themselves to be?
Imagine for a moment if our elected officials felt those same impulses of humanity and reached out with the full force of the nation to help those among us who don't vote and don't power the engines of commerce. Imagine the things we could do, not just in this country but also in Africa and Asia. Imagine how the people in parts of the world that hate us would feel when their villages began to get electricity and medicine, and American financial institutions began investing in microeconomics, not for their direct gain but in order to shrink the Third World a little. What if we had a New & Improved World Order, the central tenet of which might be "Let's get the whole world's shit together"?
I don't mean to be all John Lennon (or Karl Marx, for that matter) on you tonight. I know that I'm usually concerned with helping one person, one little girl who has a big problem but who also has a lot of people helping her and lifting her up. But the fact is that there are a lot of people out there who have no one, and they have problems that we can barely even comprehend. I've suffered from depression from time to time, and trust me, I know that a lot of you are frankly not always well in the head, bless your nutty little hearts. What if you had no safety margin? What if the next time you stumble, you lose it all?
I'm not sure why I'm writing this. It's cold outside. Maybe that's it. Just think about it, please.
Maybe I'll go help the poor of Plano. Oh, wait. Shit, I think that's us.