American Untouchables

The extreme suffering the street brings is a constant hum. Hunger, isolation, hatred, beatings, rape, torture. And then death. It’s constant. A constant hum of grinding suffering.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But it is because our society has put up invisible walls of classism.

Make no mistake, America has untouchables.

People like to remind me that panhandlers are dangerous. That they are afraid for their daughters’ safety having to stop their car next to a panhandler on a corner. That beggars are scamming the system. That people not in housing have surely done something wrong that makes their unsheltered existence, unfortunate but ultimately their fault.

We console ourselves through judgment of these people. Otherwise, the constant view of poverty hits too close to home and we become responsible for our American brothers and sisters. “What can I do to help?”

There is a woman who works at the snack counter at the local Sam’s Club. She reads these articles. She told me yesterday sometimes she brings a bottle of water to hand out. But sometimes she has nothing. So she waves. She waves to the panhandlers.

It’s one of the most beautiful expressions of giving I’ve heard of in quite some time.

We all have something to give. But so many of us give nothing.

On one hand, Republicans say that the government isn’t responsible for taking care of our every need. And then on the other hand they berate the poor as drug addicted losers that need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Self sufficiency is the name of their game. They believe they got to where they are by themselves and therefore everyone else should do the same. They easily forget that we all start the game of life at different points on the board and sometimes we land on a shoot and sometimes we land on a ladder. Luck plays a bigger role than anyone ever likes to admit… especially when they personally have been endowed with good luck.

Democrats love to wring their hands about the environment and their costly healthcare bills. (I’m in this camp.) Bernie Sanders doesn’t care about people living unsheltered on the streets and in the woods. Democrats love to judge rednecks, hillbillies and Christians.

Pro-life people love to save fetuses. Yet 4 pregnant women live in the woods we are working with. One is scheduled to have a c-section in 6 weeks.

Development of new buildings and economics is always more important than taking care of people that have no shelter, no money, no support. Nothing.

The Catholic church next to me is much more pragmatic than true to its values of giving and love. They can’t allow their next door neighbor to take care of homeless people right next to their church. What would the out of town parishioners say?

I’ve been told more than once, “Let’s be honest Sage. I wouldn’t want homeless people living next to me.”

Most people will not take in homeless people. And when someone like me does they are forced to shut down.

It’s like we are all dedicated to not looking at these people. Everyone has other problems. There are other things that are much more urgent.

How can we think we live in any other realm other than one that hates homeless people. They are untouchable. Most people prefer to judge them and look the other way. And the law forbids you from helping to shelter them if you so choose.

We will never get off this sticking point until we call it for what it is: We don’t like the homeless. We don’t what to be near them. We certainly don’t want them to live next to us. We don’t want them to exist. The homeless are an inconvenient truth.

It is illegal and actually unmoral to help homeless people in America today. If they can’t get into a proper house then there is nothing we can do. Housing First is the only solution that is viable in the American discussion of homelessness. We just need to get everyone a house. But until that fantasy day happens we can do nothing other than let these people rot on the streets.

These camp sweeps we do in America are absolutely illogical, hateful and unconstitutional. They are enforcing cruel and unusual punishment on people that have nowhere to go. Ask anyone who oversees these tent sweeps where people are supposed to go. All you’ll get is a blank stare. It’s not their problem. These people are under the authority of the nuisance department. They are nothing more than rats that must be relocated to… well there is nowhere to relocate them. They just need to be relocated.

We have uncovered a festering wound that no one wants to deal with.

We brush aside mental health issues like they don’t actually matter to this situation. And we judge drug addiction as a moral failing of these people. “Just put down the needle” is a common statement people who have never had an opiate addiction or been close to someone who has, like to tell me.

Housing is not the solution to homelessness. People fall out of housing all the time.

Community is the solution to homelessness.

Step one to solving homelessness is accepting the homeless.

Telling them, as the mayor likes to say, “living in tents is simply beneath human dignity and should not continue,” does nothing to solve the problem of homelessness. It only makes it worse.

That strategy is how you get these people to never get out of homelessness. The mayor is saying homeless people are beneath being human. They are beneath having dignity.

This is the message they receive. They suck. They are pieces of shit. And as long as they live in tents they will never be even human. They are just animals.

How is anyone ever supposed to lift themselves up when the constant message is: You are a worthless, no good piece of shit. I’m not over exaggerating this message. People tell me these things all the time. They straight out tell me the homeless should die.

Step one is acceptance. It’s ok to live in a tent. It’s ok that you are in the place you are in. You are ok.

Self acceptance is always the first step of moving forward.

This isn’t some bad choice these people made. This is the cause of a series of many things that went wrong. A parent’s death. A spouse’s death. Extreme medical bills. Losing your home in the great recession. An injury that was treated by doctors with opiates. Untreated mental health issues. Mental disabilities. Things like autism and attention deficit. These are all contributing factors to homelessness. No one wakes up being homeless one day for no reason. Things broke down. Many things broke down.

It often spirals down into serious depression and anxiety and PTSD. These people are in a free fall of self-hatred.

You will never chastise someone out of depression. Yet that is exactly what we are doing with homeless people.

We must show acceptance of homeless people and poor people.

As a civilian, the easiest way to do that is to give them $1.

Money is so sacred and so important in our society. When you give someone a $1 you are saying, “I’m thinking of you and you are part of society.”

The number one thing people tell me is that they don’t like to give panhandlers money. Why? Because they are concerned they are going to use it to buy drugs. (Like all of us are some sort of financial geniuses. Most of us are one or two paychecks away from being right where these people are now.)

I pay homeless people to do work all the time. Do you know what they buy? They buy Polar Pops for themselves and their friends. And they buy a pack of manufactured cigarettes they that share with their friends. That’s what $5-$10 buys. Then they buy food. Then they pay their cell phone bill. Those are the top things people are spending money on.

And may I say, money also keeps thieves from stealing. As a person who is sometimes on the receiving end of this theft, a person with money is a person who is less of a threat to society. By giving a homeless person or a panhandler $1 you are making the entire neighborhood safer and more at ease.

$1 represents love. $1 represents acceptance. $1 represents community.

I’m not saying giving a water bottle or a granola bar or a bus pass or a cigarette is bad. I’m just saying that a $1 is bigger. It represents a more open form of love and acceptance.

$1 is also a form of protest. It’s the government that wants the homeless to disappear most of all. When we the people stand with the homeless it makes their hate-filled no sleeping, no feeding ordinances weaker. When we stand with the homeless we make governmental homeless hatred weaker.

We can solve homelessness. But that’s not what the government wants. The government wants them to disappear. We must stand with our homeless brothers and sisters because that is the only way we will actually solve this epidemic of extreme poverty in America.

It should not be a giant mental leap to realize that treating homeless people like… well, like people, would do untold world’s of good to help these people get out of a free fall of hopelessness, desperation and depression.

Judging the homeless like our mayor does as being “beneath human dignity” is illogical and hateful.

You start with a $1. Then you move to a conversation. Then you move to sharing a meal. Then you just hang out with them. This is the path to solving homelessness in America. A continuum of acceptance by all other Americans.

When we say, “You are an American just like me,” is when we start the healing process of building true community. We are all people that deserve respect, dignity and appreciation. This is the future we need to be moving towards.

The featured image is of Alice. I took it yesterday. She got dressed up and did her hair to go to bible study. She had a home but she left it. I’m not exactly sure where she is living now.

She is sitting on a Styrofoam cooler. She got some donuts out of a dumpster and wanted to find a place to sit and eat some of them.


One response to “American Untouchables”

  1. Sharon Berg Avatar
    Sharon Berg

    Think you need to read up on Sanders position on poverty, homelessness, addiction and on affordable housing so you can compare and contrast with others ‘leading or seeking to lead our community and country. Any particular reason you singled out Sanders, given his 40+ years commitment to the disenfranchised in our country?