Fallen Through The Cracks

Posted: September 4, 2008 in Compassion, Government, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

Like many American’s, I kept up with the news regarding Hurricane Gustav.

I was particularly interested with when it was announced that New Orleans was in Gustav’s direct path. The city had been ordered evacuated by its mayor, and its residents fled – hoping that Gustav would not be a repeat of Hurricane Katrina.  

Three years after Katrina, the city’s homeless population is double what it was pre-Katrina. More than half of those homeless are direct victims of Katrina. And – little or nothing of genuine substance has actually been done to help those folks find permanent housing.

To be sure, FEMA came in and set up temporary "emergency" housing – which were little more than small trailer houses. After it was discovered those temporary shelters had unsafe levels of toxic chemicals in the materials which were used to build them, FEMA came in and notified the "tenants" that they would have to vacate their trailers, then promptly went about dismantling the "temporary camps" which had been set up for them – without so much as providing for alternative housing. The result is that all of those folks found themselves homeless again.

While Gustav may not have left the same level of devastation as Katrina, it nonetheless has left more New Orleans residents homeless.

What I find disturbing about all of this is that, as a nation, we have the ability to correct homelessness. Our elected leaders, however, are busy wasting taxpayer dollars abroad in an attempt to "look" benevolent in the eyes of the rest of the world. Case in point…

Yesterday, while going through the news feeds I receive, I came across a UPI article with the title, U.S. pledges $1B in aid to Georgia.

The "Georgia" in question is not the state of Georgia here in the United States, but the Eurasian country of Georgia. The opening line in the article said this:

The United States will provide a $1 billion package to Georgia for humanitarian and reconstruction aid, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for our country helping those other nations which need our help. We should be willing to lead a helping hand if we can. But, I have an extreme difficultly in understanding how our nations elected leaders continue to pour out obscene amounts of tax payer dollars abroad and elsewhere in the world while our own citizens are being left – literally – out in the cold.

Now – contrast the UPI article with an article from CNN.com, No home to return to after Gustav, which tells of 67 year old New Orleans native, Delphine Orgeron.

Ms. Orgeron and her husband had their home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. Afterward, they managed to find an apartment in Slidell, LA. Unfortunately, her husband fell ill and had to be placed in an assisted living facility.

This past July, Ms. Orgeron found herself having to live in her vehicle after she had been evicted because she could no longer afford to continue paying the rent with her limited income. She has called the streets home ever since.

One paragraph from the CNN article was bittersweet and poignant because of its underlying truth:

"So much money is donated to these people to help people like me. The thing is, that’s never there when you really need it," Orgeron says as she describes how she’s called numerous organizations asking for help, with nothing to show for her efforts.

Even more distressing is this quote by Ms. Orgeron:

"I’ve fallen through the cracks, and I can’t get up. … I’ve been abandoned by everyone I know."

It is all too easy for us to view the homeless as drunkards, winos, derelicts and the like. Yet, the actual reality of homelessness belies our misconceptions and stereotypical views. The American homeless population is chock full of victims. But, we seldom recognize that fact. I’m not entirely certain why.

It could be that we’ve simply become lethargic with our compassion. Or, perhaps it’s just that we’ve become socially numb to those around us who need our help – and in particular our nation’s homeless. After all, by turning a deaf ear to their cries for assistance; by closing our eyes to the reality of their suffering, it precludes us from having to put forth any effort on our parts.

It seems to me to be quite hypocritical for us to believe that the homeless are just too lazy to do something on their own behalf. Yet, we’ve become too lazy to lend a helping hand.

It seems to me to be an all out lie when we tell a homeless person that we don’t have the money to spare to help them out with a dollar or two – yet, we are more than willing to spend $3 and $4 for a cup of designer coffee.

In his novel, Adam Bede, George Eliot wrote,

"We hand folks over to God’s mercy, and show none ourselves."

It’s sad to say, but until such a time that we, as a nation, begin to exercise mercy toward those of our fellow citizens like Delphine Orgeron, homelessness will continue to increase.

And who knows…

Since homelessness can indeed afflict anyone, you might just be one of its next victims.

  1. Kimm Wagner says:

    I read about Delphine yesterday on cnn.com and it almost broke my heart. I want so badly to help her. I’ve tried calling the West Baton Rouge Community Center but the phone just rings and there is no voice mail. I can’t find anything else online about her. If you have any ideas for finding her I’d love to hear them.

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