Over the weekend, I spent time thinking about the $700 billion bail out plan which finally passed this past Friday night. What bothers me about it, is that there was an additional $110 billion in all sort of "pork" spending – none of which really had anything to do with the bail out in the first place. Yet, all of these other "incentives" had to be added to the bill so that it would curry favor with those members of Congress who had voted against the bill first time around.
What really irritated me the most however, were watching the press conferences that went on after the bill had been passed. There were Senators from both sides of the aisle standing side by side proclaiming how wonderful a bill it was. There were also Congress persons, again from both sides of the aisle, do the same. All of which made me ask myself: If it had been such a wonderful bill why didn’t it pass the first time it went for a vote? And if, indeed it were a needed bill, why was there a need for all of the extra $110 billion which had nothing to do with the bail out? And, on top of that – if members of Congress were all that sure that the bill was necessary to help the nation recover from its current economic crisis, then why did they need an incentive at all?
Shouldn’t they just have done the right thing in the first place without the need of being offered a carrot on a stick to get them to vote for the bill?
More than that though, I wondered if or when the American public would actually benefit from the bill. Or will there only be certain Americans who will benefit? Will the lives of average, everyday folk get better as a result of this bill? Or will their lives remain relatively the same?
While all of things were going through my mind, I realized that there was another parallel I could draw: the lack of genuine and meaningful assistive programs for America’s homeless.
Most of the types of services which America’s homeless receive come in the form of food and "emergency" shelter. Although in all reality, because of a shortage of available shelter beds, the majority of the homeless don’t even get the "emergency shelter." So, in essence, what they’re really getting is only a meal or two per day with little or nothing more. And, even in those cities and towns were there are other forms of homeless support services available, quite a number of the homeless still end up "falling between the cracks."
Consider this for a bit: what if – for whatever reason – you found yourself homeless? Would having only a meal and a bed provided to you be enough to help you get back on your feet? Or would it require more? Even if you were to apply for assistance through any of the government agencies, if you didn’t have an addiction disorder of some type, the odds are that you would not qualify for the majority of "homeless" programs. And that – unfortunately – is the hard core reality.
Take into account that you probably won’t have an extensive or appropriate wardrobe with which to look your best for job interviews. You’ll probably end up having to wear the same clothing for more than one day. What type of chance do you think you would have at getting employment versus someone who has the ability to wear a fresh set of clothing everyday?
What if you’re not lucky enough to get a bed at the local shelter on a particular evening and have to find some hidden corner in which to sleep over night? This means you might not have a chance to bathe and get clean up. And what if you have a job interview the following day? Since you obviously won’t be looking your best, what do you think your chances of actually getting the job would be then?
On top of that, what if you couldn’t find a job in your specific line of work? Do you truly believe that working at a fast food restaurant making minimum wage is going to help you get out of homelessness?
It’s easy for us to say that any job is better than no job at all – especially if we’re not the ones in that particular position and are sitting in the comfort of our own homes. It’s also easy to say that if a person is homeless even a minimum wage job is a step in the right direction. But is it really?
If you consider that some folks actually "make" more money being on the "welfare" system than they would working at a minimum wage job, what incentive would there be to get off of welfare, work a 40 hour a week job and have less money?
Let’s be honest about it – if you were making more on welfare than you could make working at a minimum wage job which would you choose?
Saying that the homeless should just go out and get jobs is an easy thing to do. What is problematic though is that right now unemployment is at record levels, with over 9 million Americans being unemployed.
The homeless, as a result of their homelessness – and the misconceptions, stereotypes and stigmas associated with being homeless – are less likely to be hired because of their inability to appear to be employable. It’s sad that this type of discrimination takes place. But, it doesn’t change its reality.
It’s foolish to believe that because a person becomes homeless that they also become worthless. Not unless you also happen to believe that because a person goes into a McDonald’s they automatically become a Big Mac.
If we want to have significant results are reducing the numbers of homeless in our communities, we need to begin viewing them as people who are worthy of our empathy and compassion. After all, what if the shoe were on the other foot and you suddenly found yourself homeless? Wouldn’t you want the rest of your community to treat you with basic human dignity and be willing to offer you a hand up? Wouldn’t you want – and need – more than just food and shelter?