Wanna hear a scary story? Made all the more horrifying by not only its truth but also by its sheer regularity. [TW: Horror images provided by the seminal Cronenburg Horror Classic Videodrome]
Imagine being homeless in America. Land of Plenty, a place renowned the world over as a place where hard work and dreams pay off.
Now imagine in that embarrassment of riches and promise that 1 in 5 kids lives in poverty. That one fifth of its most vulnerable citizens has missed or will miss a meal. Maybe tonight’s dinner, who knows? Making up for it with a bowl of sugary snacks that were handouts.
Still feel pretty confident in what you imagine to be the best place to live? Assured that in some way this is simply a matter of poor choices, poor decisions, and a real lack of good old bootstrapping? What booties do you imagine a hungry child can pull themselves out of poverty with? I’ll wait.
Are these hungry children weighing on your conscience, or have you in an attempt to assuage that guilt, at your own personal success, have you outsourced that responsibility to a non-profit that you donated to? Having of course done your due diligence to see that this money is having direct impact, and that those funds are being properly managed.
[*looks dead into the camera with eyebrows raised*]
[*looks down at your lap to see if you are holding receipts*]
[*loudly sighs & sucks teeth*]
If you are reading this, then even tangentially you are now as a consequence interacting and engaging with an “able bodied” adult, who in what is supposed to be the prime of life, finding himself as helpless as that hungry child. As such, let me address what are some of the tropes you might already have about what homelessness looks like, and your facile responses to the variety that looks more like you.
First you will think, surely something I did (either morally or materially) has brought this upon myself. A direct consequence of America’s unshakable Puritanical beginnings and guiding principles. Which as a benefit is the lasting legacy of being able to look down your noses and hence morally justify a rather repugnant stinginess on your part and that of the society you inhabit.
If after all it is my fault, then you are free to go along your way, and let whatever will befall me be strictly my responsibility.
[Skip to the section below that doesn’t exist but is IDGAF or GTFOH *shrugs* either way]
If you look closely at those beginnings, what you will find, and as current scholarly study will show, is that indeed those that landed on Plymouth Rock did very badly, many did not survive, coming from a society that they were in effect refugees from and who under moral penalty fled. Those that did endure, were only able to do so after a society of natives that was more caring and magnanimous offered assistance. Hence we have the lovely holiday Thanksgiving.
Which not so ironically is the day I will be functionally homeless. Something deep inside me has to laugh at the sheer audacity of these two events coinciding. While the rest of America sits around gorging itself on their cornucopia of gluttony, and gathering its loved ones around to pause for a moment and
I’m not a victim here, but you will soon realize that you are. For as my station in life declines even further, you will be directly responsible, in the only way a capitalist uncaring society has left. Through that tiniest of portion your taxes go to providing the so-called “safety net” for its most unfortunate citizens. Whether that be through city, county, or state/federal services provided. I’ll be as necessary availing myself of all of them.
Privatizing the wealth, while socializing the cost.
So should I fail at staving off disaster, you and everyone else end up paying by having me enter into the system (of which I am partially participating now) that is called a “social safety net” program. Certainly those among us who think this system is designed to do what it is supposed to, help people, keep them from indigency and becoming a further burden on the system.
It is, but does it serve all needs equally? Does it help or benefit those margins of the community? It certainly tries, and I’ve been asked not only my preferred title, but also pronouns. Keeping myself from going full SJW on them about the usage of ‘preferred’ but instead congratulated them for some small sign. That is how cishetero patriarchy works, has you thanking them for their ‘kindness’ when the whole system is rigged. But don’t let me digress down that path, just yet.
Until you’ve been through this process, which isn’t particularly demeaning, or difficult to navigate, or specifically disenfranchising. That is until you realize how paternalistic it all is, and so bogged down in bureaucracy. Don’t get this twisted, I could write an entire book on the process alone. Despite in my initial intake interview providing, and requesting any & all assistance I qualified for, they have buried me in a mountain of paper. Mailed to my house, often multiple times a day, different envelopes, utterly arcane and labyrinthine forms to fill out.
Yet the most surprising was them requesting proof of citizenship, which I did at my initial interview, in order to avail the Medicaid portion. What they suggested was: filling out this lengthy form, copying my birth certificate (if I have no $, how does that work?), driver’s license, and then to mail (or fax, again how $way) to them. Of course I can actually take them back to the HRA office and “scan them” without really having to interact much with the process/staff or its lengthy wait times.
This when you are in excruciating pain, and unable to walk long stretches, have no MetroCard, etc… it isn’t an impossibility, but at the time was not necessary. Instead, as with the other appointment missed, because the enrollment in a “work referral” program suspiciously called America Works that looks and functions like a current Republican Campaign office or outpost. It was clearly a for-profit driven, low information, even lower standards beneficiary of the type of corporate welfare or huge contract from the City & State of New York. There were many times where they actively had me forging documents. There is an exposé brewing there, trust me. My spidey senses were tingling. It wasn’t a farce, and I’m sure it does find a great number of people temporary employment and opportunities. That is a given, but I’m not sure the underpinnings, and some of its employees & practices would pass the strict letter of the law.
That said, this process will be renewed shortly, as when it fell off I had a temporary gig, which I’d hope would turn into more. Not wanting to be a beneficiary of these programs when in fact my fortunes could change relatively quickly. Let’s say like the over fifty thousand dollars in unpaid invoices and wage theft that has left me in this current predicament, but which the much hailed “Freelance ain’t Free” law does not cover retroactively, not to mention the legal fees, or lost wages while pursing that option.
So if for this nearly twelve hundred words, and soon to be short book on the travails of navigating the Gig Economy when it lets you down, or you have a calamity, then please consider a contribution or other ways to support this crazy dream.
Editor’s Note: The editor has the month off, so see something, say something and any constructive criticism either in the moderated comments below, or via email would be appreciated.