|flickr: richard masoner|
just then a couple walked by, carrying groceries and a case of beer. "you can't spare one o' them drinks for an old man?" old school pleaded, splitting his attention between me, the slouching kid reading nietzsche on the sidewalk and the beer-carriers. i took the opportunity to head off to a coffee shop, leaving behind my soft drink can, and taking with me my confusion, sympathy and mixed feelings for the houseless of this nation.
here we are in the age of slave morality. up is down, right is right and evil is the new good. nietzsche is mad 'cause 'love your neighbor' has made us less awesome--sympathetic instead of successful. he wants us to act in the world to our full capacities, not care for each other in sacrificial and empathetic relationships.
but what's the point of that? perhaps a bit unlike the dead german sociopath i'm reading, i still care a little for the small people in this world. but where to start? how do we navigate broken-ness and addiction? i don't know.
to a lonely and sickly addict on the street, money=drugs. i have tested this time and time again by offering to buy food for those who ask me to "spare change for a bite to eat." consistently, the food is either turned down or set aside amid more pleas for cash. it's a rough position to be in.
i've lived among houseless people for weeks on end on a couple of different occasions. most are on mutiple government assistance programs including social security, food stamps and welfare. in addition, at least in the northern states, churches offer food and other assistance. though i have encountered them, people using their spanging money for food are exceedingly rare.
little people in a big world
it seems to me that strategies for helping those in need work best when they are though of as a solution to a problem. following this line of reason, we would need to think about what the problem was before taking any action toward solution.
'old school' told me that his problem was that he didn't have enough money to get something to eat. later i watched him pull quite a bit of food out of the baby carriage he was pushing around while he chatted with me. while i listened, he told me about his life, and addressed a deeper (perhaps more honest) level of the problem: he couldn't get a job.
but i think its bigger than that. as i started to write this, through the window in the coffee shop across the street i watched the store manager chase off another beggar from the parking lot. he was screaming and waving his arms. she was calling the police. neither was listening to the other.
there's a lot of pressure living on the streets, especially for addicts. loneliness sets in as people start (generally with good reason) to infer that you're un-trustworthy. the drugs make you desperate, and gruff manners and a rough lifestyle can cut off your chances to get a shower and a good meal at times. people start to look down on you, if just because you smell bad.
so there are more problems than just a lack of food. in fact, in my experience oftentimes a houselss person will use the claim of a lack of food as a red herring, a departure from actual issues that is employed to shame the housed people they talk to into helping them with some drug money.
it's been obvious to me for quite some time that giving money to an addict is destructive rather than compassionate. however, there are a lot of more legitimate issues that houseless addicts often deal with:
- lack of work
- heartbreak from divorce
- ptsd (especially from the u.s.-vietnam war)
- class discrimination
so that's a start. i don't want to give up on this.