Homelessness is pot-marked by stereotypes and misconceptions.
I’m willing to bet that if you took a group of folks, placed them in a room and asked them to discuss homelessness, many of the most prevalent stereotypes would dominate the conversation.
I’m also willing to bet that there would be little – or nothing at all – said about the numbers of children who experience homelessness each year.
Probably less would be said about the number of senior citizens who unfortunately find themselves homeless.
I read an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times about one senior citizen who is homeless.
Bessie Mae Berger is 97, has an implanted pacemaker and has been homeless for about 4 years.
Ms. Berger and her two sons – Larry, 60 and Charlie, 63 – call a 1973 Chevrolet Suburban their home.
Between the three of them, they "live" on Ms. Berger’s $375 monthly Social Security check, Charlie’s $637 disability payments, and Larry’s $300 in monthly food stamps. They also recycle bottles and cans for "extra cash."
To supplement their meager monthly finances, Ms. Berger panhandles by "flying a sign" – which is to say, she sits by the roadside holding a cardboard sign which reads: "I am 97 years old. Homeless. Broke. Need help please."
According to the article,
"Charlie worked in construction and as a painter before becoming disabled by degenerative arthritis. Larry was a cook before compressed discs in the back and a damaged neck nerve put an end to it. Twenty-six years ago, he began working as a full-time caregiver for his mother through the state’s In-Home Supportive Services program.
That ended about four years ago, when the owner of a Palm Springs home where they lived had to sell the place. At the same time, the state dropped Larry and his mother from the support program, he said."
Anyone who reads this post, please note: I’m not writing it to debate what Ms. Berger and her sons should or shouldn’t do; what options they may or may not have; or what homeless support services they should or should not be seeking. Nor am I writing it to argue whether panhandling is okay or not okay.
I’m almost certain that no one reading this would be so foolish to suggest that Ms. Berger go out and try and find a job so that she can get into housing. All the same, there might some who will say that her sons should go right out and look for work so that they can care for their aged mother. However, for Charlie and Larry, finding employment might not be the easiest of tasks considering their ages, their disabilities and the fact that the unemployment rate in California is 12.2 percent.
I don’t pretend to know what course of action is the best for Ms. Berger or her sons.
Yet, it seems to me that it should be unacceptable to us as a society that a 97-year old woman should have to call the front seat of a vehicle her home. It should break our collective hearts.
Moreover, it should perturb us to no end. It should make us mad as hell – to the point where we literally demand that our elected officials cease diddling around and begin implementing true intervention services to assist folks like Ms. Berger to get off the streets and into proper housing.
On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Points 5 and 6 of its Preamble state the following:
"Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,"
Article 25, Section 1, states,
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."
I’m willing to wager a cup of coffee that there is not a politician currently in office who wouldn’t cry "foul" if they found themselves homeless and didn’t have access to services or programs which would help them get off the streets.
And I’m willing to wager a sweet roll on top of that that they’d belly ache louder about it than anyone else.
Yet, which of them will actually end up making the personal effort to assist Ms. Berger?