Thoughts About the Poor

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Speaking as one who has been there (more than once I’m afraid) I’ll answer with a soft voice but I won’t answer for all of the homeless because I’m not a collective, I’m an individual who’s part of the whole.

Ok, talk about stacked decks. True, my life it seems is one big stacked deck after another. I ascend and then I fall back down again … repeatedly. But, I do pull myself back up … with the help of friends and occasionally the state welfare agencies. Sometimes it’s enough of a help that I’m actually able to fend for myself and be comfortable and get out of the survival mode and actually start living. Sometimes, that life is short-lived and something goes kablooee and I’m on that “downward spiral”. Trust me; I will try to stop it best as I can. Sometimes, however, I’ll slide for a while until I can see the edge and then scramble before going over, (ya, speaking in metaphors here but the best analogy I can come up with).

Each state has its own welfare system, and each state dictates a policy of help and how much. Some states will go the route of the revolving door and others will do (what I call) the circus route and make the person requesting assistance jump through hoops to receive the help they need (food, cash assistance, etc.). A lot of people become dependent upon the system and have abused it severely. I’ve seen people live quite well off “the government’s tit”; while for others the milk is rather bitter and sour. Sometimes it’s too sour.

For panhandlers that really want to get out of the crap-storm they’re in … a couple of bucks (even a $10 or a generous $20) won’t do it. It ($10-20) may cover for a couple of days at best. Remind yourself how far ten bucks will carry you on an average day if you have no food at home (or no home at all) … try pretending and then multiply that by 365 days or even 180 days.
I’m not saying start writing out a check for half your savings or anything like that but if all you can do is all you can do then all you can do is enough, because at least you’re trying to help … and that is what counts.

The one thing Paul (and the rest of you) does that sometimes keeps a person from helping themselves or getting help is pride. Sometimes some folks want to live that way. The whys are as individual as the people themselves; low self-esteem, extreme bitterness at society where they want to “disassociate” themselves from it (in their minds they are doing just that), fear … and that one covers a lot. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of just plain trying. It’s human, it’s something that isn’t always easy to control or overcome. Sometimes biting the bullet breaks a few teeth. Kind of hard to continue with that kind of pain, isn’t it?

Others do want to get out and stay out. But it’s tough, very tough. Bad work histories really are what kill the average Joe who tries to stand back up again. It’s a long, long hard process and without the “right” kind of support and right kind of support group … they’ll keep sliding. One analogy I heard that seems appropriate … like trying to run on a sheet of ice slanted slightly up hill on a warm day in worn out sneakers. Get enough momentum going and you just might have that part-time/full-time job and get that income started and maybe make enough to get that deposit/first and last month’s rent for that run-down apartment building you’re hoping to get into. You might make that in two or three paychecks … Ahh but wait … a paycheck might be two weeks apart … three weeks for the first one in some cases. So how to keep showering and clothes cleaned during that time? How to feed yourself (even better … how to feed the family?). Saving money, enough of it, is very hard under those conditions. Minimum wage just doesn’t cut it when one is out of … well, just about everything.

Ah the welfare system … that’s what it’s there for. Yes. Some people are just natural screw-ups. You’ve seen them … at work, school, and day to day stuff. Even they would screw up something like the welfare system and are denied the help they so desperately need because papers didn’t get turned in on time, not enough job applications in the job search, not keeping the job long enough and so on and so on, (remember … been there and done that okay?). The workers at the welfare offices do their jobs and some of them do it quite well. But they’re just as frustrated as the ones trying to get the help; very hard for them to sort out the scammers and the desperate. Very hard to sort out the ones who have the capabilities and the ones who need more help than they realize; very hard to work with those who are ignorant or unskilled. It’s a tough job and to make it even tougher they have to adhere to policy as dictated by the state.

They’re very much (in my experience), in that “you’re asking us for help? Prove it to me by doing what I need you to do. Show me that you’re really trying here”. Some will try hard, some will try for a little bit, some not at all, and some will try but have that infamous “stacked deck”. How do you know which is which?

Lots of jobs out there but lots of jobs that aren’t paying the money needed to get out of whatever hole that some people are finding themselves in. Like I said, minimum wage just doesn’t cut it, which I believe is … what? $5.15 an hour (now $7.25) times thirty-eight-forty hours then minus taxes and then minus food for a week or two weeks then minus shelter fees (hotels or cheap apartments) then minus transportation (public and private?) then … wow a “couple of bucks”. Well at least I can eat at the McDonalds I’m working at… oh no, you got to pay half the cost of the food.

Stacked deck indeed, a stacked deck and a few aces missing. It’s very tiring work, rven more so when the light at the end of the tunnel is just a pin-prick far, far away. It’s there but, damn, it takes a while to get there, sometimes not soon enough. Reality rears its ugly head; rent is due, get hurt on the job, get really sick, other bills come in, car breaks down (because it was a POS to begin with), and so on. Kind of like what John Lennon sang once … “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

We can help out best that we may and best that we do. But we all got our own lives to live don’t we? What we each earn we’ve learned to live within those means and the thought of giving is sometimes a bitter pill, sometimes not. It’s how we see things and it’s a measure of our character and above all it’s a measure of the amount of love we have in our hearts.

I read a wonderful book once and highly recommend it … The Story of B by Daniel Quinn; very insightful and related to the discussion here. Reviews can be found on


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