So, Sunday was Veterans’ Day.
On Saturday, I volunteered with a community dinner providing a Thanksgiving meal to any and all comers, free, as well as a clothing give away. It was held outside, in front of Denver City Hall. It is an annual event that has been held for many years now, to provide some relief to the area’s vulnerable populations.
You might ask, what does that have to do with Veterans Day? Well, a few of the folks in the line mentioned they were veterans (maybe they were maybe they weren’t) and a bunch of them had various hats, jackets or other items with them indicating veteran status.
Of course, the dinner was no questions asked. There could have been millionaires in that line, except that the weather sucked royally, and I doubt anyone who had much of any kind of choice was waiting in line for free food and used clothes in the middle of pouring rain, snow, moderate winds and near freezing temperatures.
I was lucky to have found a spot passing out food under a tent, and a few of the eating tables were under tents. From where I was standing, I could see the line stretching down the block. I didn’t count, but there must have been several hundred people in line, at least. The people waiting in line (and at least one of them told us he had been waiting for half an hour just to get to the beginning of the food distribution) had to stand out. Despite that, very few were using umbrellas. I guess maybe the people in line didn’t have umbrellas. They did, for the most part, have jackets, and a few even had bicycles with them. Mostly it was adults, there were a few kids with their parents. And a few young looking adults. Mostly it seemed to be people who I would guess were 35 to 60, although it can be hard to tell sometimes when someone has been living on the street.
I was only there for part of the event, but the clothing pile diminished considerably in the time I was there. I guess some folks really needed clothes. There was one guy who was wrapped up in a blanket, no jacket, with plastic bags on his feet, I guess because he didn’t have shoes. (As I was leaving, I did see someone leading him over to the clothing area. I hope they could find him some shoes.) He looked really old. I kind of wondered why he was on his own.
I guess to me it is always a bit weird thinking that people who are down on their luck were once someone’s little baby. That someone somewhere probably thought they would grow up to lead the World or some part of it. Even when times are good, there are some people who struggle to support themselves and stay in the mainstream, wind up in pretty bad circumstances and need institutional assistance. When times are bad, there are a lot of people who are used to taking care of themselves who suddenly find that they can’t provide the basics any more.
Having lived in a number of larger cities over the past twenty years, I’ve seen a fair amount of homelessness and disenfranchisement. Some folks seem so far gone, it’s scary and hard to imagine how they would come back. It’s almost like people in a hospital or a nursing home who are physically sick and you’re not sure are going to make it.
I think what is scarier is what I see around me now. People who are present, who you know could work, you know want to support themselves and probably could. But they can’t get a job. Why? That’s one of the great questions of the current “economic downturn” (Don’t say Recession or Depression!) I’d love that question answered for myself. Someone from Belgium just wrote an article about how they have hiring authority but they just do not hire mid-careers. Thanks.
The thing is, in some places, even if you have a job, it doesn’t matter. A lot of decent people aren’t going to pay bills on what they can make. I saw this first in California, really. When I was living in Boston in the mid-90’s, there were cheap apartments and cheap neighborhoods. You maybe had to go further out, but they were there on the major buslines or the subway. But in California, they were bulldozing all the cheap housing or converting it to absurd luxury units. You might say, well, if someone wants it, why not? I guess the question is, why do they want it? Because the developer and the purchaser and the financer can get a bunch of public subsidies and tax incentives to make funding and building and owning a place like that a pretty sweet deal, if you have enough money to get into it. So, maybe it is more about government messing with markets and creating incentives. Laissez-faire? Or unfair?
Mostly, I just figured California wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t figure out why a lot of low and moderate income people wanted to live there—really, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to live there—and got myself out. Someone told me recently that California has 12 percent of the U.S. population and 30 percent of the social services cases. Seems like a problem of their own making.
What I don’t get is why anyone would want to follow that model for their community. It leads to a pretty obvious destination. It is really just frightening to see so many people with so little, not even a safe, stable place to stay. And once someone’s housing situation destabilizes, their employment situation and everything else tend to go with it.
On Saturday, I put a big smile on my face and tried to look happy and encouraging and welcoming. Honestly, I was really frightened for the people I met. With such cold miserable weather, and knowing that some of them probably had nowhere inside to stay that night, I wondered how many of them would not live until Spring. It made me feel frightened for myself as well. I guess I grew up believing that if you invested in yourself through education and diligence and work a stable place in the workforce would follow. Not so much.
Everything now is a beauty contest. It is all about status and how someone is a special case and deserves something because of their gold star ratings. With all due respect to America’s veterans, there are a lot of people who need help, some are vets, some aren’t. Some are young, some are old. Some have a lot of qualification and experience, some are newbies to the workforce. Some have a whole bunch of other people hanging off them, some are flying solo.
I think what America’s vets fought for was social equity and government that responds to the People. I don’t think they served to protect eight figure executive compensation. (Or six figure management compensation for that matter.) I don’t think they served to protect the 1%. I don’t think they served for just themselves, or for a goody-bag of benefits at the finish line. In other words, helping a vet while leaving other people to starve and die in the street was not the idea.
I honestly think that what I saw in California around 2000 was a form of culture rot that is spreading throughout the country. If you really want to honor veterans, well, One, that’s something you do every day, not just on November 11. And Two, quit obsessing about your lifestyle and your image and pay attention to what is going on around you. Quit being distracted by shiny objects, all kind of extras and privileges. Quit worrying about nothing except yourself. Two $25,000 end of year bonuses is one, decent, middle class job, or two entry level jobs. One Executive bonus in the seven figures is lots of middle class jobs.
So, maybe this is not so much an exercise in diplomacy. Diplomacy is for people bright enough to get the point in $14 words. Instead, it is an exercise in democracy. Power to all the People. And a safe place to sleep at night.