Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

The Greatest Country in the World?

Yesterday, it was 110 degrees in the shade. That’s not an extraordinary figure, though it’s a little early for such a warm day. Rolling off the freeway, I made sure to pull my car into the offramp lane furthest from the curb, something I do by habit to avoid being hassled by panhandlers.

And yea verily, there was a raggedy guy with his worldly possessions tossed on the ground all around him, begging for a handout. A guy in an SUV pulled up beside me, and sure enough, the panhandler barged up to the driver’s-side door and demanded money. SUV dude ignored him.

I was on my way to the PoD vendor, there to pick up some page proofs. It’s a lot cheaper to drive down south of the airport than to have him ship the things to me. Seemed to me I saw an awful lot of derelict-looking folks, and not just in the scruffier part of town. Earlier I’d spotted a guy begging at the corner of Tatum and Shea, smack in the middle of tony Paradise Valley, across the street from a supermarket where one finds BMWs, Mercedes, and even now and again a Bentley in the parking lot.

On an idle impulse, I decided to count the number of transients between the printer’s shop and my place.

So northward and westward bound it was. One . . . two . . .  three, four . . . five . . . six, seven, eight . . .  Some were huddled together in spots of shade, others were standing out in the full sun with their “Disabled Veteran” and “Need Food” signs, trying to cadge a few bucks. And of course, every freeway underpass has at least one and often several panhandlers working the offramps in the shade of the overpass.

On 24th Street at Roosevelt, a freight train was stopped — permanently as far as anyone could tell — right across the road. Becalmed, I settled in for a long, long wait, but then spotted a couple of 18-wheel truckers pushing their way through so right quick shoved my way in behind one of them (yes, I am an aggressive driver), and before long we were eastbound on Roosevelt, following the tracks to God knows where. Nine . . . ten. . . .

It was a long and roundabout trip, and I’ll admit I lost track of my bums because I passed some of the time gathering wool. Eventually we came out on McDowell by way of 36th Street.

This took me way out of my way. But I recalled that I needed something from a Target, and that the Costco shopping center on 44th Street north of McDowell happened to host one of those worthy stores. So bore easterly some more and finally north. Eleven . . . twelve . . .

Parked. Went into the Target. Didn’t find the desired item, but did find Bum #13 loitering in the portico outside the entrance.

By the time I got home, I had counted FIFTEEN derelicts stumbling around the streets, most of them no doubt mentally ill, drug addicts, or both.

Think of that. Fifteen homeless, miserable human beings in one trip. In 110-degree heat.

When I was a little kid in the 1950s, my father used to brag to me that America was “the greatest country in the world,” and one of the manifestations of that greatness was that we didn’t have people sleeping in the streets. In those days, out in Arabia, we would get Life and Saturday Evening Post and Time magazines shipped to us. Those amazing bygone publications would run stories with lots of photos displaying the wide, wide world to the American middle class.

This particular brag of my father’s came, memorably, when one of the magazines ran a big photo spread about India, showing scenes of poverty-stricken, half-starved men, women, and children living permanently on the sidewalks and the roads. See there! said he. America is such a great country, we never have people living on our streets.

Well, of course, he had lived through the Great Depression and passed a time when, for 10 days running, he and my mother had nothing to eat but pancakes and oranges kiped from local orchards, and I’m quite sure he knew about Hoovervilles and Okies. But the Depression was in the past and now we were in the 1950s and we were a Great Country.

He was right, though. When we would go home on long leaves, we would drive all the way across the country, from New York to Ft. Worth to Berkeley and back, and never once encounter anyone begging.

Today you see beggars on every corner.

If we were a Great Country, we could come up with the wherewithal to provide mental health care, drug addiction care, and housing for people who are too sick and too feckless to care for themselves.

When America was a Great Country (so said my father), we and our friends passed through towns and cities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrein, India, Africa…and everyplace we went we encountered hungry people begging for handouts. That was considered an exotic sight, something you only saw in Third-World countries.

Today we don’t have to travel far to meet a beggar. All we have to do is go down to the corner grocery store.

WTF is wrong with us that we have so many people living and begging in the streets?

Author: funny

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  1. Gotta tell ya, I seem to see more and more folks “begging” around here as well. I have always been curious as to the “story” of the person behind that cardboard sign. By some twist of fate I am not in his/her position and have done OK. But where did this guy go wrong? What happened….a loss of a spouse….addiction…the loss of a good paying job? How the heck did this person wind up begging car to car in 110 degree heat in the “richest country in the world”? Like you….this makes no sense to me…..
    My “friend” who used to camp out in front of The Baltimore Sun was a homeless guy…BUT he was NOT a beggar and told me so. He lived “by his wits”. When I asked him how he wound up “homeless”….he did not hesitate….”the booz”. He shared he once had a “good” woman… a family….a home….and lost it all. He blamed no one but himself. I wish there was something that could have been done for this guy….he was worth saving….

    • The main reason is, no doubt, you’re not addicted to drugs or alcohol. We had the new director of the city’s homeless services come speak to a neighborhood. He was a VERY interesting man. He had a good degree and had been in an excellent job, with a wife and the white picket fence and all that. Then he started drinking. He descended into alcoholism, literally lost everything, and ended up on the street. He was homeless for some time, until he managed to bring himself around.

      He said that most street people are drug addicts, alcoholics, or mentally ill — or some combination of the above. He also said that people living on the street have ample access to food, and that giving them food — whether as individuals or through your church — doesn’t help them. Homeless shelters and other institutions that distribute food have at least SOME other services to help, which they might not access otherwise.

      The churches around here, especially the fundamentalists ones, rise up in rage when the city homeless services people tell them NOT to distribute food. They assume it’s the city responding to the neighbors’ NIMBY complaints — but as a practical matter, unless you’re in a neighborhood that houses the very wealthy and the very influential, the City of Phoenix does not give one thin damn what the residents do or don’t want in their backyards. In fact, it apparently is correct that well-meaning efforts to hand out food to the homeless are not as helpful as one would think.

      The City does have drug and alcohol recovery programs. The thing is, people have to find them, and then they have to summon the will to use them. Not easy, when you’re stoned or drunk all the time.

  2. It’s still a great country, just not a perfect one. Never has been, never will be.
    As for the mentally ill homeless, one aspect of the problem is even when some mentally ill people have access to treatment, they won’t take advantage of it. I’ve met countless mentally ill people, mostly male, say that THEY weren’t crazy, it’s everybody else who’s f’d up. So what do you do with such people? We used to lock them up involuntarily, but the laws have been changed. With good reason, but still… there’s a portion of our population who can’t/won’t take care of themselves, so they’re living on the streets.
    I was reading an article last year (sure wish I had the link to it) about this experimental program where homeless people were given rooms in a refurbished hotel which they could only keep if they followed the rules. Break the rules, lose the room. According to the article, this program had an 89% success rate. The thinking behind the program seemed to be, instead of telling people do this to earn the prize, here’s the prize, now this is what you need to do to keep it. I’d like to see this program replicated to see if the success rate is comparable.

    • Wow! Eight-nine percent — almost 90 percent — is really impressive.

      That’s what Catholic Social Services is apparently planning to do in our neighborhood. One of the four homeless/low-income shelters that are going in is an apartment complex for homeless vagrants.

      So…the question is, what about the other 11 percent? Do they end up under the oleanders in our neighborhood, speaking of our backyards? Do they come visiting with screwdrivers and lockpicks? Or are they so ill that just putting them in an apartment and offering them three squares is not enough to help them? If not, what CAN be done to keep that 11 percent off the asphalt?

      • I came to this conclusion a long time ago – some people aren’t going to work or pull themselves together, period. As you might have guessed, I’ve known some of these people personally. ;o) A surprisingly large percentage get a husband, wife, so, relative or friend to support them. If this wasn’t happening, we would literally be stumbling over homeless on our way out of our homes in the morning.

      • I know a woman who’s married to a man like that, Catseye. Holy mackerel, it’s just hideous. She’s an emotional wreck, holding down a full-time job while he sits around the house all day playing computer games. And to make matters worse, their adult son, who lives with them, is a chip off the old man’s block.

        Truly, the only reason the two men are not on the street is that she supports them.

  3. It’s become a bit of a hobbyhorse for me lately, but I can’t help but think our economy plays a role. It’s gotten harder and harder to find full-time entry-level/unskilled jobs, and harder and harder to find affordable housing on that kind of income. Heck, in some cities, people with decent, full-time jobs can’t afford a place to live. So what options does someone with minimal skills–and possibly mental health problems or a propensity for substance abuse have? Maybe fifty years ago, he could sweep a warehouse floor twenty hours a week and earn enough to afford a long-term hotel room or a room in a flophouse–but I don’t know if that’s even possible now.

    I think alcohol and drugs contribute, but I think the situation also contributes to drug/alcohol abuse. If nothing you do is going to get you anywhere, you may as well resign yourself to your fate, and spend what money you do get on whatever takes the edge off. And at some point you become incapable of holding a job, even if one did magically appear.

    I don’t think this accounts for all of the problem, but I can’t help thinking that more jobs that allowed people to earn a living wage and more low-income housing would–over the long term–help alleviate some of it.

  4. Yes, I think you’re right, SherryH: it’s got to be circular. Drug use is rampant in low-SES districts, but it’s probably popular there BECAUSE people there can’t get decent jobs or in many cases can’t get jobs at all.

    You would have to hold down two or preferably three jobs sweeping floors to survive in most cities now, I expect. And that may be one reason we’re seeing a lot of drug and transient problems in small towns now: cheaper to live there means that if you can get a minimum wage job in the area, you have a better shot at keeping a roof over your head.

    I dunno…. Whatever is going on, obviously as a society we’re doing SOMETHING wrong.