Thanksgiving Day; 2010

Feeding the Homeless in a Nation of Fear

By W.D. Noble

Most of you know that I volunteer at one of two shelters over Thanksgiving to help out in feeding the homeless. This year was different from all the others.

First, the numbers we served were higher. I confirmed this with the ‘regular’ staff; they made it pretty clear that from last year to this, we’ve seen nearly a 15% increase in homelessness here in River City.

Second, the mood has turned uglier.

“…I lived with my brother until he lost his house. Now, we’re camping…”

“…unemployment ran out, and I wound up….”

“…killed himself. Saw his choice was livin’ in th’ road, or checkin’ himself out…”

Snippets of conversation. I’m supposed to treat everyone with dignity; the way they try to run things is to pretend it’s a restaurant which serves one kind of meal, and treats everyone as a customer. Good help is invisible. Normally, it’s a food-line; done cafeteria-style – over the holidays, we use plates and serve a real dinner. Serve and collect; serve and collect. It gives a person like me an opportunity to learn something while busing dishes.

Next table over, someone started yelling in frustration. Counselors are on duty to deal with this sort of thing, and while it happens every year, these ‘incidents’ flared up about every ten minutes. The counselors try to separate the frustrated from the rest – get them to talk – offer solutions along with sympathy.

The suicide rate has spiked. So have the residents of the shelter from ‘good’ parts of town – people who’ve been caught in the foreclosure mess. These are people who are used to a certain confidence of action. They’re not accustomed to being told when they can eat, sleep, or use the shower.

They’re mad.

They’re the ones who volunteer their story – to anyone who’ll listen. Nowadays; they have no one to whom they can talk.

“I lost my job in July of 2009”, stated one man, flatly, as it he were saying, “It’s raining and cold outside today.” In his case, both were true. “I lost my house, my wife, my car….” The look on his face told the rest – he’d also lost his will to live.

He went on to say that he blamed the government for all of this. His logic was simple, direct, and largely correct: “They’re in charge, ain’t they?” Hunger finally won out over pride – he ate his dinner.

It’s not like Grandma’s. There are no seconds. Everyone is issued a ticket when they walk in; they surrender it in exchange for a plate. No ticket; no food. No one gets to come by and get ‘seconds’.

There’s no couch. There’s no football. There’s no fire – only an overflow tent with more people.

Lesson: You have to look for them – but the numbers are there. The unemployment rate – the one which the government states is ‘official’ – is 9.6%; you can safely double that if you’re looking for the truth. Homeless? The government owns-up to 500,000, which has been their stock answer for at least two decades now. I know the figure is much higher – and the National Council for the Homeless estimates anywhere from two to five million. Real statistics are hard to come by. Homeless people don’t talk to authorities – it usually means losing what little they’ve been able to scrounge for a campsite.

As the day wore on, I became uneasily-comfortable with an ugly mood. I did a little math in my head.

America has anywhere from ten to twenty-five million unemployed. One in four hundred homes are in some state of foreclosure (we’re on track for over two million by the end of 2010). Combine that with the loss of America’s razor-thin safety-net, and we’re looking at somewhere north of three million new homeless people by the end of 2011.

Most of those will be like the man, above – used to providing for himself, and looking for someone to blame.

These are figures which presage serious civil unrest. I felt it, on Thanksgiving Day; a nation out of work, out of options, and out of hope – and fearful of their own future.

Fear is an odd thing. It’s the best tool of tin-pot governments; the last real weapon of the dictator. Used properly, it can keep people in line.

Once that dog slips its leash, it becomes a Cerberus of hate and anger.

Some additional math. Five million homeless. Figure a third will be suffering from PTSD of one form or another; another third will drink the Kool-Aid and ‘believe’ their lot will improve Real Soon Now – that leaves just north of one and a half million people who are fearful and angry at a government which they blame for their plight.

They’ve also now entered the ranks of the true revolutionaries – because they now have nothing to lose.

“Am I the only one who noticed everyone’s mood today?”, I asked.

“Nope. We were talking about it in the kitchen. The counselors noticed it too.” Small wonder – our yearly ‘customers’ were dealing with frustration born of fear – as well as anger.

Hope? By now, anyone with half a brain knows that hope is a political slogan, used by the 44th President to get himself elected. From now on, real ‘hope and change’ are going to involve doing something – and that’s where the math gets ugly, really fast.

You see, people like me are thin on the ground. We see that there are really two types in the world – those who’ll ‘send good thoughts into the universe’, and those who’ll actually do something. It’s those of us who do something who create hope and change.

We’re outnumbered, though.

At this point, a tidal wave of fear is sweeping the marginalized people of America. In the end, one final statistic is going to matter:   There are, give or take, about a million U.S. military personnel stationed within our borders. Add the half-million police personnel, and the homeless still outnumber them.

Fear is contagious. I felt it last week, while finishing up my stint at the kitchen. For those of us smart enough to do the math, we should all be afraid.

About astranavigo

Astra is one of the clever monkeys occupying space on the Third Planet From The Sun. While it was an early wish of Astra's to be one of the first to go to Proxima Centauri, he knows this is not to be; instead, you can find him here (some of the time) using simple tools to create communication. Holding up a mirror and saying 'Looky! Mistofer Emperor! Y'ain't wearin' no clothes!" is but one of the services he provides here. Others are subverting prevailing wisdom, peeing in people's Cheerios, trashing on their Imaginary Friends (he does this a lot,) and shifting paradigms without benefit of a clutch. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he hopes he'll never have to learn the true meaning of some of his dystopian fiction.

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10 Comments on “Thanksgiving Day; 2010”

  1. This is an excellent coverage, Will. You bring the kitchen, the homeless people, the atmosphere to life. No seconds, no television, no couch to sit on, only gratitude for a free meal. How small and sad it seems. Anchorage has been having problems with rising numbers of homeless deaths, as well. Some have been suicides. Some have been the result of alcohol and exposure. An alarming number have been murders; generally unsolved ones, i might add. The Anchorage Municipality wrings its hands but does nothing except perform another case study.

    When you have removed a person’s chances of gaining adequate livelihood, you’ve actually removed the conditions of fear, as once you’ve lost all, you’re no longer fearful. The next step beyond fear is resolve, and that’s when you’ll see some major changes. Some people will try to forcibly challenge the legal process. Some will resolve their dispossessed status through black market activities. Some will grit their teeth, tighten their belts and do whatever it takes to make ends meet. The time for fear is over because the failure of our government to safeguard the well-being of its constituents is evident. Fear brings nothing but paranoia and poor judgment. It’s now time for the American people to learn a little bit about resolve.

  2. Unless these homeless people get access to some serious firepower soon, nothing they do will bring about any kind of change – the powers that be have effectively turned their backs on them, and the only thing power understands is a competing demonstration of power.

  3. Homeless people are more likely to become Soylent Green than they are to get any firepower. Working at shelters and kitchens myself what I see is if any of these unfourtunate people “get out of line” they are immediately shipped to the paddy wagon and no passing go to collect their public defender or even family.
    It’s getting rough out there and too many people are close to this edge, what they are most afraid of they want put away from sight. No, I don’t predict any of the poor being in a position to revolt.

  4. Grainnerhuad,

    That’s precisely what I was getting at – if these people don’t acquire some means of defending themselves (since lawyers are out of the question that only leaves one option – guns) they will simply be disposed of by an establishment that considers them a plague to be eradicated.

    I know that fear makes revolt difficult, but in this rotting nation what other options remain?

  5. Christopher, thank you for causing me to pause. Truly. I have no handy answer as to how to help people rise up when they are so beaten down and afraid…and have no means for guns, nor the know-how or connections to form alliances.

    I would truly love to see a discussion along these lines, how to unite when you are either at the edge or dangling from it. If you should be so inclined.

  6. Folks, the thing to remember about history is that (1) it doesn’t repeat itself; human nature does, and (2) in spite of all the rhetoric, it’s difficult to use the past as a means of predicting the future.

    No one would have given a plugged-nickel for the peasants in Russia – they assembled in December of 1905 to present their grievances to the Czar – and were soundly thrashed by a regiment of Cossacks. Every Western nation thought Czar Nicky was in control – until he wasn’t.

    That particular situation unraveled at unholy speed, thanks to (1) an unwinnable war which had bled the nation white of both blood and treasure, (2) a military which had more in common with the insular peasants than the government, and (3) an economy in shambles.

    Much is going to depend on this ‘deal’ which Obama has sold out reached with the Republicans – the real unemployment rate is between 18%-20% (depression-level); we’re losing 500,000 jobs per month, and cutting off benefits to five million people by spring will strain every remaining service to the breaking point.

    There simply aren’t enough ‘paddy-wagons’ or jail-beds to deal with that many people if they all decide they’ve had enough.

    This was the lesson which Czar Nicholas, Marie Antoinette and others learned the hard way – business as usual won’t solve the problem, and whistling past the graveyard or plugging one’s ears and saying, ‘la-la-la’ whilst pretending it’s all going to either go away or get better is a recipe for straight-up revolution.

    The mood is ugly. I can tell you that more people than you know want this to change, by any means necessary.

    What happens next is anyone’s guess — but absent swift and positive action, rather than the pandering and sellouts we’ve seen, ugly moods are going to transition to ugly actions, and damn fast.

    -W

  7. We can’t look for swift and positive action from a government that still kisses tax break favoritism for the five percent wealthiest, insisting that economic analysts say it’s the best way to trickle down some currency to the floundering ninety-five percent, or print a billion dollars in hundred dollar bills that aren’t usable. What do we get for the blunder? A light, embarrassed, “whoops. My bad.”

    One of the first things we, the people, can do is to mentally quit separating the jobless and homeless as them and us. A conscious knowledge that you could just as easily be in the same shoes might incite a little fear, but it should also incite resolve. If you are able to assist one homeless person, you have an ally, a worker. You have somebody that can assist you in whatever chores or projects you want done. If you can spare just one room in your house for someone who needs shelter, you can rent it for a nominal fee. It’s not charity. It’s not giving something for nothing. It’s an exchange of services.

    Things might very well get ugly. Not every dispossessed is going to just lie down and take it. In that mob of hunger and want, there will be voices that strike a chord of unity. There will be those who strike a note of determination and organization. Chances are, much of the initial organization will not be lawful. The conditions of hunger are the playing field for organized crime; black market products, theft, human exploitation. Moral questions are set aside for questions of survival.

    America has marched in a single direction despite every precautionary warning, because its human nature has been to experience the danger before believing it’s a bad idea. It prefers to use hindsight instead of foresight. Just as America didn’t listen to the warning calls on the real estate crisis, it will not listen to the warnings of the jobless now. It will stumble along in its Hollywood dream that every thing is just honky-dory until they discover the wolf is no long at the door, but in their house.

  8. [Quote=grainnerhuad]Christopher, thank you for causing me to pause. Truly. I have no handy answer as to how to help people rise up when they are so beaten down and afraid…and have no means for guns, nor the know-how or connections to form alliances.[/quote]

    Well, the inner cities are filled with homeless people – and the inner cities are filled with activities that aren’t exactly “legal” that these people can get involved in so that they might afford the means to organize themselves into small militias to defend their interest against the establishment (as well as rival groups).

    Some people might say that such a plan will turn the inner cities of America into a war zone, but I say that they are already war zones – and in those zones the common person is at a big disadvantage due to their lack of arms and organization (thus the cops and the gangs both tend to walk on them). I assert that it’s way past time for talk about “improving living conditions” (conditions *won’t* significantly improve until the establishment’s corruption is destroyed): it’s now time to be thinking about yourself and yours – after all, that’s really all you have in this world.

  9. [Quote= W.D. Noble]No one would have given a plugged-nickel for the peasants in Russia – they assembled in December of 1905 to present their grievances to the Czar – and were soundly thrashed by a regiment of Cossacks. Every Western nation thought Czar Nicky was in control – until he wasn’t.

    That particular situation unraveled at unholy speed, thanks to (1) an unwinnable war which had bled the nation white of both blood and treasure, (2) a military which had more in common with the insular peasants than the government, and (3) an economy in shambles.[/quote]

    Hmm… Why does this sound so familiar…

  10. Karla, your statement, “…Just as America didn’t listen to the warning calls on the real estate crisis, it will not listen to the warnings of the jobless now. It will stumble along in its Hollywood dream that every thing is just honky-dory until they discover the wolf is no long at the door, but in their house….”, is spot-on, as is Christopher’s statement, “…Why does this sound so familiar…”

    The reality of things as I’m seeing them (and please understand that I wrote this piece partly as a year-end reflection, and a snapshot of things as they are in a medium-sized city in the U.S., not as a statistical-sampling or anything like it) is this: The mood has turned ugly. People are not going to put up with this for long.

    I’ll say it again – you don’t throw anywhere from five to fifteen million people in the street, with twice that number living on unemployment, and not have severe societal consequences.

    I’m thinking my ‘rule of thirds’ still applies here – about a third will remain ‘believers in the system’ and try to ride it out; a third will join the underground economy (some engaging in those illegal activities which Karla pointed out), and a third will rebel, outright.

    That’s still between one and two million rebels – far less than Lenin had on his side.

    We don’t need to worry about Obama. We don’t need to worry about Romney, Palin, Bachmann, or any of the morons on the Republican side.

    We need to worry about a visionary in a basement who sees things as they really are – and is willing to die for a new country and a new order, which may or may not include the niceties of the rule of law and the Constitution.

    -W

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