The day before Thanksgiving I was at an event where well meaning local dignitaries volunteered to help cook and serve dinner to homeless and poor people. As the sumptuous meal was coming to an end one of the dignitaries spoke to those eating and said, “I’m glad I could be here tonight and help out, I promise I’ll be back for Christmas too.” Someone yelled out, “Great, but what am I supposed to eat until then!” There was no laughter only silence.
For over 17 years I have worked at a local non-profit agency that provides food, shelter, employment and training opportunities to homeless and disabled persons in Alameda County. In the past five years we have provided assistance to over 3,000 people annually. Not the same people every year! For many of the people we see it’s their first time being homeless, falling through the cracks and finding themselves with out the safety net they thought would protect them. While more people than ever are seeking assistance, resources to support them are shrinking, as less federal, state, and foundation funds are being made available.
Lately I’ve noticed several trends emerging that are disturbing to me, and contradictory to the pursuit of the American Dream:
• More intact families (mother and father with children), first time homeless, no addictions, willing and able to work, seeking shelter space—the ideal nuclear family in the American Dream.
• More physically disabled persons, seeking shelter space—none or inadequate health care.
• More single young adults under 25, seeking shelter space—our future workforce and taxpayers.
• More senior adults over 55, seeking shelter space—golden years turning gray.
This continuous increase in the number of people needing help reminds me of scooping water from an overflowing bathtub, but not turning off the faucet! To me, the biggest open faucet is in Washington D.C. We need to stop making so many people poor (bad policies), blaming them for their poverty (they’re addicted or lazy) and then ignoring them once their poor (welfare reform). I say we, because we vote the politicians in or out! Meanwhile our politicians, instead of waging a war on poverty, are attacking free speech, a women’s right to choose, the environment, and even the teaching of evolution. To turn off the faucet we’ve got to vote!
I was somewhat encouraged by the results of the recent elections, but the coalition that came together seems fragile. Many people were voting against Arnold Schwarzenegger and his power move, not against his misguided policies. Besides, voting every four years and occasionally winning will not give poor people the relief they need in time. We need to vote everyday! Voting everyday means always being compassionate, an advocate for change, not committing or ignoring oppressive behavior, but also having the courage to interrupt those who do.
Vote everyday. People need to eat everyday!
Winston Burton works for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS).