Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shameful poverty grows in America

A good number of readers "tune in" here to debate and debunk much of what I write and believe.

That's welcomed, actually.

Part of the genius of the blogging is that it gets people "talking" who otherwise might not have the opportunity. At times it grows frustrating and tedious, but I continue to believe in the process.

With all of this in mind, I couldn't help myself yesterday. I caught myself wishing (more than once) that some of my fiercest antagonists were with me.

Our main Resource Center was completely overwhelmed with people seeking assistance. I expect the final tally for the day came close to 400 families, maybe more.

People were literally crammed into our interview room. They wound their way down every hallway and stood in every open space and room. They sat up and down our staircase and we made room for them upstairs in our already overcrowded office area.

The crowded conditions were compounded by the stifling heat. People were lined up outside in the terrible sun. Our volunteers were running about distributing ice water, chilled down in bottles for ease of consumption.

I roamed through the crowd making apologies for the overcrowded conditions, our inadequate seating and the long wait for attention.

People were so very gracious and kind, so grateful for everything we offered.

So poor.

So patient and gracious to one another.

There was talk everywhere about work. . .

"Do you have something I can do?"

"I could help you with this crowd, I could make things go faster" an old man on crutches told me--he was asking for a job!

He must have been 80.

The entire experience was overwhelming, to say the least.

While all of this was going on, we had a tour underway--well actually, we had two tours underway. An early tour involved local folks with an interest in what we are doing. And then, a bit later in the day, we provided a tour to a group from the Mental Health Association and Bank of America from Tulsa, Oklahoma. This group is working very hard to develop permanent supportive housing for the homeless in Tulsa and had an interest in our efforts here.

What an "intersection" experience!

All kinds of people. Hundreds of poor, very poor people, mostly elderly; many families. All looking for food. All coming to our grossly overcrowded space.

No one can tell me that such "bread lines" ought still exist in the richest nation on the earth.

The day was beyond bitter sweet.

We need change.

We all need to work for it.

All who have voice need to speak up as never before.

We are failing one another badly in this country today.



Joe James said...

And I repent for my part in the neglect.

I love your story about the old man on crutches! It has been my experience that most people who come through our doors seeking aid, work hard and have the capacity to make a difference.

We good, rich, white Americans have no idea what we do to perpetuate the problem of poverty in this country.

Neglect is just 1 of the problems, there are many more.

Justin said...


I agree with you here, in some ways, and in others I disagree.

Are there more poor people in America today? Most likely.

The question we have to ask ourselves is, are government programs making people's lives better or worse?

I've become friends with a large group of people in a run down apartment complex in my neighborhood. Its completely disgusting in all of the apartments. Not a place I would ever live.

And I feel for them. I do. I actually called the landlord today to try and negotiate the rent for one of the people living in the complex, because her common law husband of 26 years has been put in a home by his children, and she's been left with only her 623 a month from SSI and 155 in food stamps. Her rent is 600 a month.

I'm disgusted with the landlord, for living in suburbia and managing this literal shit hole so poorly, and charging these people the same rent that I'm paying a mile down the road, for something that isn't of nearly the same quality.

But I talked to him civilly, and he would lower the rent 175 dollars if she pays the electricity. I'm working on getting funding now to pay the deposit, and have no idea how she can pay electricity, since that typically requires a checking account.

Anyway, the point of this story is, everyone in the apartment complex, and I mean EVERYONE (all of whom I count as friends, btw) has some type of substance abuse problem... ranging from alcohol and cigarette addiction to crack cocaine.

Many of these people are able bodied human beings besides that. They are completely capable of working, and while maybe not getting out of government classified poverty, at least getting somewhere that is livable.

But yet, they stay. They stay in a hell hole and the abuse drugs and live off whatever wage they can make from hustlin' at the gas station around the corner.

And I don't understand. I don't see how more welfare or government housing is going to fix this problem. Maybe things are different in Dallas, but most of the poorest of the poor here in Nashville are that way because of substance abuse and/or mental issues.

How are we supposed to fix this?

Larry James said...

Justin, you say, "Maybe things are different in Dallas, but most of the poorest of the poor here in Nashville are that way because of substance abuse and/or mental issues."

First, things are not fundamentally different in Dallas, though I know of no apartment in which 100% of the residents are addicts.

Second, I have a question for you. If you child or brother or sister or parent was addicted to drugs or alcohol, what would you think should be done or offered or provided to assist them to recovery?

If any of these loved ones suffered from mental illness, what would you suggest?

Whatever your serioius answer, go and advocate for that among the poor.

Justin said...

Well, this is a quadplex, with about 10 people living in it, one of who is a crack dealer, so... I may have misrepresented by just saying "apartment complex".

If I had a family member, I would try to get them treatment. I am a total advocate of treating drug problems as a medical, rather than criminal issue.

The thing is, you can't force someone to do what they don't want to do. The government can't decide to go lock up alcoholics and put them in a treatment program, and even if they did, if the person doesn't want to quit, they aren't going to.

It would be the same with a family member. You can have your interventions, but if a person decides they don't want to change, there's not a lot that can be done.

Anonymous said...

It sounds as though your first assumption is that "druggies" don't want to clean up.

Is that your first assumption with a family member?

KentF said...

God bless you Larry. This sounds like I'm passing the buck and I'm sincerely not, but...

I think I represent a significant percentage of 30, 40 and 50 something's. I work 55 hours a week as a self-employed person - I have a daughter at a private college and another that started driving. I'd sincerely like to do more, however, the balancing act of life from the middle income side of life is a blurring storm of skyrocketing electric bills, insurance premiums, tuition, etc., and a fairly stagnant income stub.

Am I complaining? Not at all. But, the movers and shakers are facing uphill battles, while those that have been blessed beyond belief with great health, benefits on top of benefits, and early retirement packages spend most of their time on a golf course or in an RV pulling their SUV's all over America.

Can you imagine the good 100,000 able-bodied retired folks could do volunteering one day a week in Dallas? Some do, but the majority don't.

And I concur with your comments Justin. There are so many folks that call themselves Christians that are hell-hole slumlords it is sickening. I know investors that literally pay for their entire wealth off a handful of rental properties.

chris said...

This is not at all meant to excuse "slumlords", but the one time my husband and I had rental property was a disaster. You cannot pick and choose who rents your property. On two different occasions when the renters moved out we had to spend thousands to bring the house up to par. We had to hire a truck to haul away the junk in the backyard. We had to buy a new stove because they evidently never cleaned. It was caked with grease beyond anything I ever saw. I could go on, but you get the idea. To top it off, they didn't pay the rent on time, sometimes not at all. This was not the exception, it was the usual thing.

Larry James said...

Justin and all, one thing I intended to include this a.m., but you may not have meant to imply this, but your first comment sounds as if you are saying most, if not all, poor folks are poor due to their own bad choices, especially involving drugs and alcohol. The scene I describe here in our Resource Center would destroy such a point of view. The crowd was not a bunch of addicts or drunks, but ordinary, average folks who just don't have enough capital to make life work very well.

BTW--the Bible says that the poor should drink to deal with their pain, while the politicos should avoid drink so as to insure the enactment of just laws.

Anonymous said...

But it's so much easier to blame the government and blame the poor for bad choices... than to be willing to accept the fact that poor people are hard working people too.

Great proverb, too, Larry!

Justin said...

you anonymouses absolutely astonish me.

how about quit being assholes and actually listen to what I'm saying.

I'm sick and tired of this shit. I'm sick and tired of you assuming you know who I am because you think you know what party I belong to.

I moved to the inner city specificaly to minister to people. I sit on the front porch with homeless and addicts and those in poverty. I've invited people into my house, and fed them, and offered them clothing, blankets, towels.

And I'm sick and tired of the elitist assholes on this blog that think because I don't think that robbing from the rich to give to the poor is a practical, realistic, way of alleviating poverty, that I automatically assume certain things.

I never ever said that no poor people that are on drugs want to quit. All I said was that, the government can't force anyone to quit, if they don't want to. And they can't. Is there any debate on that issue.

What kind of headlines would there be on this blog if the government started rounding people up to put them in treatment programs. Probably not good ones.

Maybe there should be a place they can go if they want to get clean. I think that'd be a better use of funds than just giving addicts money, which just tempts them more.

I can't say that this is the way all poor people are, because I don't know that (I guess I'll just qualify every statement for your morons who can't tell I'm not trying to paint with a broad brush) but of those people that I deal with on a daily basis, they get their check, and its gone in a week. And of those I know, its been spent on lottery tickets, beer, and crack.

Giving them money is only making the problem worse, is it not?

I expect and apology from some people. This is absolutely astonishing.

Charles said...

I've gotta back up Justin on this one. I don't agree with him on the point, but he's routinely discussed his direct contact and assistance to the poor in his city. And the anonymous's tend to gang-tackle him for expressing his opinion every time. Keep up the good works, Justin, and I hope you stay in these conversations long enough for us to find an effective solution we agree on!

Larry James said...

Justin, if you go back to my original post--one that had nothing to do with addiction--I describe hundreds of poor folks, mainly elderly and children. Since I wasn't talking about addiction, I didn't suggest that anyone be forced into treatment. As you say, that wouldn't work. But the subject is hunger, poverty, dispair (a recognized motivation for addiction and lots of other problematic behaviors).

The checks you refer to that your friends receive, what is their source? TANF is limited and all but dead today. If the checks are SSI, then these people have been classified as disabled and living on very limited incomes.

Sounds like the interventions needed will be personal and trust-based. Why don't you see if you can become the designated payee for your friends to help them manage their limited funds. Get a church to do what churches ought to be doing. Help folks make the changes that they likely would like to make if they saw some hope. This is how it works here.

I don't enjoy critics who jump on me or you with half-baked assumptions. But, I must say, you've been fairly clear about your attitude toward any govt involvement when it comes to the poor. That even when the rich often are getting that way due to governmetn policies that benefit only them.

Justin said...

The lady I've been helping is on SSI. I'm not sure about the other people. I don't know if they are just surviving off section 8 and the limited amount of food stamps they are getting or what. I know they don't work.

And I know several of them are living off of others. Several people sleep on the floor in this womans house and eat all of her food, and I can't tell what exactly they are doing for her. It makes me mad, but I'm not sure how to handle this situation.

I still don't think government assistance is necessarily the answer. In cases where drug abuse and bad fiscal decisions are to blame, the government assistance creates moral hazard, much the same it does in economics, when the consequences of bad decisions (whether it be buying lottery tickets, then not having food money, or making risky loans) the government always sweeps in and makes things tolerable, and keeps the largess flowing. Since that largess is often times monopoly money, that is money that they print out of no where, it hurts the poor even more by deflating the currency.

I'm working on finding a solution for her, and I'm hoping by building a relationship with these people, I can be an example and hopefully push them to take control of their lives that have gone tragically off course through substance abuse, violence, and other bad decisions.

Larry James said...

Justin, keep with the people, no matter what! As to government "largess," Tennessee sure must be different than Texas! I can assure you there's no largess down here!