So, I cannot bear the prospect of reading another word of academicese…there must be something better. Like, for example,
Take a read of it, and then tell me: what do you make of this piece?
To my eye, it comes across as a sophisticated, well written version of what we used to call a “sob story”: a human-interest newspaper piece specifically designed to twang the readers’ heartstrings, thereby selling more papers.
It would be cynical, though, to say that’s exactly what this is. Because it’s not. Exactly. Homelessness — leaving out the “drug-addicted” aspect for discretion’s sake — has become a vast problem in this country, and it’s getting bigger fast. Putting a human face on the grimy, road-worn souls milling around outside your office, hitting you up for a handout when you sit down for breakfast at a restaurant, panhandling on the street corners, chasing you around the grocery store parking lot, and rummaging through the trash bin outside your home (to say nothing of stealing everything in the yard that’s not red-hot or nailed down) is a sure way to help Americans understand the dimensions of the problem and that the people caught up in it are people.
Still. Enough is left out of this report that you…well…you wonder.
For example: here we have a report that the tent camps our vagrants put up along sidewalks or (here in the ’hood, for example) next-door to a middle school are controlled by criminal gangs, who extort money and drugs from the occupants. One could even call these street-campers “renters,” since in effect they’re renting space from gangs. “(LAPD Officer Deon) Joseph says the landlords are the gangs. In order to stay on the block, he explains, one woman here was forced by the Grape Street Crips to give up her entire Social Security check every month.”
Okay. If she’s getting a Social Security check, the minute that thing comes into her PO box or arrives down at the social service agency where her mail comes in, right in that moment she has enough to get on a bus and ride out of town. Even if what she can afford is not very far. Every Greyhound bus in the country follows some route out into the boondocks. So…why doesn’t she wrap up her tent and her belongings, take herself to the Greyhound station, and ride out into the sticks, where the Crips are unlikely to follow?
True, the thugs may stop her from wrapping up her tent. Though it must be said: if Officer Joseph knows as much about these folks as he seems to in the article, why would she not go to Officer Joseph (after dropping her meth pipe and other paraphernalia in a trash can or hiding them someplace near the Greyhound station) and ask him to stand by while she packs up her stuff and watch while she boards a city bus and makes her getaway? Maybe Officer Joseph could even drive her to the Greyhound station.
If you’re sleeping in the rough, chances are sleeping in a national forest or on BLM land is going to be a lot safer and a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the streets. When SDXB and I hitch-hiked through the back country of Canada and Alaska, we slept under roof exactly two nights in three months — because it was raining so hard that even he would not put up with it. A couple of times, when we were in a small city, we camped overnight in a parking lot. And I’ll tellya: asphalt or concrete is damned uncomfortable to sleep on. The ground — dirt — is far preferable. And the boondocks are far preferable to an urban setting: quieter, and though there are a few crazies stumbling around out there plus the occasional bear, surprisingly few Crips and Bloods.
We have an observation from a social service worker, who sounds very experienced:
“They are you or me divided by circumstance,” says Georgia Berkovich, of the Midnight Mission. “A catastrophic illness in the family that depletes their savings. A victim of domestic violence who would rather live on the street than be with their abuser.”
Financial issues and the lack of affordable housing are increasingly impacting women. No one never imagines they’ll end up on these streets, Berkovich says. “First you would stay with friends and then you’d stay with family and maybe you’d wear out your welcome and you say ‘we’ll just stay in our car.’ “
Yeah. But…if you have a car that you imagine you can stay in, then you have four wheels that will get you out of town. You can camp in most national forests and on BLM land for nothing. For what you could get by selling that car, you could buy a small tent, a sleeping bag, a camp stove, a few camp pans, a plate, and a cup, with a wad of dough left over. That and a decent jacket and boots will equip you for living on the land — one helluva lot better than anyone is equipped to live on the street in some gang’s territory.
Something is left out of this NPR story. Maybe it’s simply an answer to the question why stay in a gang-ridden city when rural areas have services for the poor and the homeless?
Interestingly, homeless levels are significantly high in the rural counties here in lovely Arizona. My guess would be the conditions described in this NPR piece are largely the reason. Poverty rates are higher in our rural areas, so that would tend to push up the numbers of homeless. But dollars to donuts, the rates of urban homelessness — city people who lose their livelihoods and their homes — increase the numbers of homeless in the boondocks. Because anyone who knows how to camp knows that you can live better beside a stream than you can beside a freeway.