Homeless Hopelessness (Part 1)

January 29th, 2013 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

I am reading a disturbing book. I do not usually pick
this type of reading material.  My
general ‘go to’ books tend to those written by L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen and
Dorothy Canfield Fisher. You finish them smiling. On the non-fiction front, I recently
loved Moonwalking with Einstein,
which stimulated my thought processes. Disturbing books are not my favorite
choice.  

Nonetheless, a dinner companion recommended Breakfast
at Sally’s
, the story of a once successful businessman who ended up
homeless on the streets of Bremerton, WA. The Sally in the title is a nickname
for the Salvation Army, one of the many locations where he regularly ate.

Having not finished the book, I still don’t understand
why the author’s family and friends rejected him when he most needed them.
Whatever the reasons that propelled him to the street, he has used his talents
to paint a sad and desperate picture of a large and lost population. Although
he differs from most of his homeless companions in his lack of drug and alcohol
abuse, he does introduce the reader to many sympathetic characters.

Why is the book so depressing? Aside from being a window
into a world that is bleak and shows no signs of shrinking, for me the book is
a booming indictment of both the Democrat and Republican parties. Already
disheartened by the last election cycle –by both parties’ words and
actions—this book is exacerbating my feelings of hopelessness and reinforcing
my concerns that only a huge, and by definition disruptive and disturbing
upheaval, can reverse this country’s downward course.

What do I mean? Author Richard LeMieux and his fellow
homeless are understandably bitter when they see government money going towards
stadiums and fancy buildings, while they, many of whom saw active duty in our
nation’s military, have no shelter. A quote from a man known only as ‘C.’,
however, reveals why the Democrat Party’s lofty promises will get votes while
not solving any problems.

          “It would
be so, so, so easy to fix poverty in this country. Just give each of those
people a hundred thousand dollars… That’s how much the IRS estimates is stashed
away in offshore accounts by American businesses to avoid taxes…”

C. is a homeless hero of the book. Gentle, giving, well
read and intelligent, he certainly refutes the image of the dangerous, violent
homeless male. Yet, his theme, which repeats throughout the book, that if only
the rich had less or if the government played Robin Hood, stealing from the
rich to give to the poor, everyone would be well fed and happy, is sadly
quixotic and untrue. Aside from numerous other flaws in that thinking, many people
would quickly run through a hundred thousand dollars and be no better off.
Having money does not automatically free people from addictions or keep them free
from others taking advantage of them; it does not feed souls and teach people to
use money wisely; it does not provide loving relationships and the self-respect
that working provides. As too many lottery winners have found out, getting money
handed to you is not a panacea.

Meanwhile the Republican Party, with its inability to
winningly articulate or take principled stands for what should be one its core
principles, that all human beings are created in the image of God, will
likewise bring no relief. Too many Republican “leaders” don’t actually believe
in the foundations of the Party or the greatness of the human soul. Despite the
fact that studies show that those with conservative politics proportionally
give more in both dollars and time to charity that those with liberal politics
do, that benevolence often seems disconnected from politician’s statements and
actions.

Frankly, both parties have too many entrenched
politicians who have lived too long in, and benefit too greatly from, the
corrupt bog that politics has become.Government programs and proposals will not, in my opinion, be the solution.

(End of Part One)

14 comments

Menorahnorth says:

Susan, you’re completely right that if the rich gave their wealth to the poor, the problems that drove the homeless to the streets would remain unchanged. There are two major differences between the homeless and the rest of society: their addictions and mental illness goes untreated under the misguided banner of society’s ‘respect’ and their so-called rights to live on the street, and, significantly, their own values–that allow them to live on the street without shame.
Your leap from that into your disenchantment with both political parties, however, bears discussion. It appears your distress is triggered by C.’s ‘understandable’ disgust that government money funds ‘stadiums and fancy buildings.’ Government’s most legitimate role is infrastructure, providing services beyond the scope of private business or individuals, so service buildings like stadiums can be legitimate functions. Providing for the poor, however, was until fairly recently solely the purview of charities and individuals. You touched upon the proper response when you wondered about the homeless’s families’ roles in their welfare. Perhaps less involvement by government would encourage the values of charity and family cohesion to re-emerge.
Fixing homelessness is certainly not the role of political parties, and the need for politicians to work across the aisle and compromise sometimes means their underlying principles get muddied. But I believe that the majority of politicians seek the welfare of their constituencies and the nation. If you want to see “corrupt bogs” in politics, you have a world of other countries to choose from. The United States, for all its flaws, remains the greatest nation on God’s Green Earth.

The reason I put wrote this in two parts is because there was so much to say. I urge you to read the book because I think it will change some of your assumptions. As to some of your points – not in order – when I say “corrupt bog” you are absolutely correct that compared to other countries, America is still a relatively honest government. (And I agree that it is a uniquely great nation)I was comparing it to what it should be. I don’t believe we have the same number of statesmen vs. politicians that we should. And I think that over the course of the years too much power – and money – has been given to elected officials and that there aren’t enough with the will to change that.
I do understand governments investing in infrastructure, though I also understand C.’s lack of appreciation for that.
More coming next week and I hope people will read the book so we can discuss it together.

Lori says:

I’m looking forward to Part II, Susan.
I’d like to understand better, Menorahnorth, your statement, “Government’s most legitimate role is infrastructure” such as the funding of stadiums, etc. Certainly, I can understand the practical necessities of infrastructure such as bridges and roads, etc. which are used by everyone, but I’ve never explored your thought much before so I’d appreciate it if you could provide some original source documentation re: this. I’ve been taught via the Bible and our founding documents that government’s primary role (certainly at the federal level) is to protect the innocent from evil [for example, providing for the common defence as stated in the Constitution (police, military), while only promoting–not providing for–the general welfare]. Thank you so much for your time; I appreciate it!

vanaly palmer says:

Your article is right on… i just heard on Fox News that our Military personnel in Afghanistan ARE NOT BEING SERVED BREAKFAST BECAUSE OF SEQUESTRATION FEARS… and yet.. our esteemed President spent and IS spending millions on unnecessary travel… today to Las Vegas just to make an announcement about immigration…
this IS a continual problem of course..but i have become so very skeptical of every thing the govt does.. which of course, is exactly what God told Samuel the govt would do… i have resolved to spend my ‘news time’ praying instead… much more profitable..
Thank you for not allowing me and others to get the Elijah syndrome..”i and only i am left ..etc..” Your musings are encouragment… Thank you..vanaly palmer

Flayer says:

I don’t agree that “taxing” the rich will solve any problems. Remember the money is filtered through the various government bureaucracies and institutions, each taking their “fair share” before passing on a portion to the next layer, a fraction finally reaching the intended recipient. The employees all have a vested interest in terms of job security in having as many “clients” as possible, rather than the goal of reducing the number in need. The “rich” give plenty, both in taxes and charity, especially conservative wealthy, because they do so voluntarily to those folks to whom or institutions to which they choose. When taxes go up, charitable giving goes down. This is a fact because on has the attitude that one already gave and thus is “off the hook.” This is why we must preserve the ability for families to retain as much of their own property and earned money, as well as emphasize the beauty of giving. A society in which most of the fruit of our labor is filtered through nameless, faceless and G-dless bureaucracies become bankrupt both economically and spiritually. I didn’t read the book but it is a sad comment on the family of the author that not one relative or friend would offer charity. Perhaps his family thought that they should let the “government” take care of him since they paid their taxes.

I have gotten further in the book since I wrote this and I have to say that the author’s family is not the “bad guy.” It is more complex that black/white which is one of the reasons that government, which can only operate by manuals and regulations isn’t the answer.

Jimdyl says:

Thank you Susan for opening the good discussions among us. I am wondering if age and experience and attention to our society and politics fills our little noggins with shock and perplexity. I am wondering if society and politics out there in front of our eyes has always lacked coherence and logic and efficiency and justice. This is the world we live in, and God allows us to be very messy. Will it ever make more sense or get fixed? I wonder. I too sometimes wonder if something big and different will occur to correct what seems to be a disaster coming at us. But is my perception complete enough? What if God has a road ahead that none of us has been able to conceive yet? Homeless is a modern term, they used to be called bums, hobos, losers, psychos, winos. All could have a home but they choose otherwise. We can try this and try that, but until a connection is made with the surrounding society, there will be no “home”.

James says:

Yes, if only, if only… if fishes could walk and pigs could fly….
My mother had strong traditional values like Susan. Once on mother’s knee she confided that she had known many rich people, yet not one of them was happy. Why? I asked, for having plenty of money, you could have anything your heart desired. Think about it, she said. You will live in constant anxiety about money: that someone will steal your money or your things, that others who envy you will seek your ruin. You will fear and mistrust new people, never knowing if that new someone is a real friend, or whether they are only after your money.
Also, she said, how a man handles a nickel will reveal how he will handle a thousand dollars. He who does not respect a nickel will mishandle a thousand dollars. There are thriftless souls who spend from paycheck to paycheck, and never develop a safety cushion for hard times. There are eternal renters, who never invest in a home as equity.and shift like gypsies from place to place. A major blow of misfortune can destroy them. Therefore there will always be poor people, for life is the sum total of the choices we make.
Homelessness must be a complex phenomenon with complex roots. Yet this author seems unrealistic if he expects the parties and Congress to help. The Political Upper Class has long been on the gravy train, and the Congress have feathered their own nests so well, why should they consider the evil chances of the wretched masses they purport to represent?
p.s. Dear Rabbi Lapin, despite your righteous indignation, please remember that your friends who know you will recognize you and your message. Your friends will ignore and delete the cowardly spamster. Forget about the others.

Carol B says:

If you want to read a book that is both sad but uplifting, I suggest Chris Gardner’s book, the “Pursuit of Happyness.” Gardner not only lifted himself and his son out of homelessness but he did it with good old fashioned hard work and free market economics. He now helps others do the same. Throwing money at any problem rarely works; however, when organizations like the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse are involved, helping becomes more than just throwing money. It is people helping people through a difficult time using Biblical principles. Today both you and the Rabbi seem down and disappointed. “In the midst of plenty, they will run into trouble and be overcome by misery” Job 20:22, however the Lord is our vindicator, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back. In due time their feet will slip. Their day of disaster will arrive, and their destiny will overtake them” Deuteronomy 32:35. The Lord is in control of everything and it is our job to not lose faith in Him.

Jean says:

Funny how this post coincides with a book I’m reading. It is a book on “prosperity” that was written in 1947. One of the short chapters describes an organization known as the Omaha Self-Help Society that came about in the 1930s. The premise of the chapter is that everyone has something to give and has an obligation to both society and to G_d to use that which is given to them. The chapter then describes how this little organization enriched the lives of its members and helped to stabilize the surrounding area through service – people traded services, bartered for goods and sometimes even earned money for their work. The writer noted that “No one waited for the government to start a program…. they just decided to fix the problems.” Perhaps it’s time for our country to pray for gridlock in Washington (the only time they can’t do anything stupid) and use our own initiative and creativity to fix the problems.

James B says:

I understand what you are talking about when you say you see a bleak and weary future for the U.S.. I came to the same conclusion years ago, but didn’t understand the problems with our country in sufficient detail to know what to do about it. Now that I understand the problem better, I believe that I have come up with an answer. It’s not a perfect answer. I don’t believe there is but 1 perfect answer and, to my knowledge, He isn’t here yet. I believe we will all know when He arrives. Until then, I believe the best way to protect the “American” (I say we are U.S. citizens. Even Cubans are Americans.) way of life, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States of America is to set up another foundation in a separate government from the present one dedicated to keeping the government out of the church while allowing the church into the government. Since there is no place left to go to, the answer to finding such a place would be for 1 or more states to leave the union. The best state, I believe, for this would be Texas. Texas has oil, a coastline with a Navy base, the only alternative NASA launch site, and a people raised to do what is necessary to protect and preserve this country. I do not believe they would be by themselves when they leave (hypothetically, as all of this I’m writing is). They are also attached and would be like a cancerous sore to those who are trying to take this country down. And, yes, ever since Bill Clinton took apart our spy network, we have been under constant, nibbling attack. We were under attack before then, but our government knew where it was coming from and when to expect it and were, therefore, able to put a stop to it without anyone ever being the wiser. Now we don’t have that cushion, and probably never will have it again.

Jana says:

Susan, thanks for this post. I now have 2 books on request from the library: “Breakfast at Sally’s” and “Pursuit of Happyness” (yeppers, that’s how it is spelled in the title).
You might also enjoy “Same Kind of Different as Me” by Ron Hall from viewpoint of someone who got involved and helped a homeless guy, “Nickled and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich who wrote more from a helpless and hopeless victim viewpoint, and “Scratch Beginnings” by Adam W. Shepard who was able to break out of homelessness with hard work.
Looking forward to your next installment and appreciate your thoughtful responses to the comments above!

Larry says:

Susan, I very much enjoy reading your musings (same with Rabi Lapin’s) This discussion on homelessness brings to mind my brother’s life which eventually lead to him taking his own life. He was the most educated one among his siblings ( 9 in total). He was always looking for that easy way to wealth. He felt that manual labor was beneath him. He spent most of his adult life living on the edge of society. Slowly he separated himself from contact with his family. His last year or so was spent living in a 8 by 10 foot shed in the woods. It was only after he stopped communicating with our older sister for about two months that we search him out (he would not reveal to us his residence) that we found him hanging inside his shed. The way he lead his life and his ultimate demise was all a culmination of his many choices. Come to think of it I had a cousin who led a similar life and end. Life is what you make of it. Our care-taker government wants to be our big-brother. All we have to do is give them the power to meet our every need and life will be perfect. Not! God gave us the ability to think for ourselves and to make our own choices in life. We can either choose to turn towards Him and acknowledge His supreme place in our lives and world or turn away and look for some other “god”. Our society offers us many things to worship. It’s our choice how we choose to live and ultimately die.

Larry,
I am truly sorry that your family went through such a sad and terrible experience. If one does not accept that we are both material and spiritual beings it is hard to explain how people go through similar circumstances but respond so differently. Many people would have trouble understanding how can you can be sad about a death such as your brother’s without thinking that “society” or “government” can cause those types of tragedies not to happen.

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