Of all the words and images that have been used to describe the economic downturn, this video on the LATimes Website has touched me the most: A woman, long abandoned by her husband, and her three children are living on the street, storing their belongings in what passes in my neighborhood as garbage cans housed by the hundreds in an area warehouse.
In 2002, the warehouse was born of tension on the streets, when merchants became concerned about homeless people leaving bedrolls and shopping carts in front of their businesses.
Krystle Marage and her children, along with a lot of other every-day people, visit the warehouse daily to retrieve and exchange what they need to go on living. So many come daily to sort through their remaining belongings that the warehouse is considering putting in a dressing room so children can get ready for school and folks can gear up for the daily job hunt. It occurred to me that, in this scenario, their belongings are more secure than they are.
Many are new to homelessness. Some are educated professionals — a few still carry briefcases — and one, a few weeks back, was so confident that he was but a temporary visitor that he arrived clutching a pair of unused golf cleats. Long after it became city policy that skid row is no place for children, a jarring number of the newcomers are mothers and their children.
Along with the fear and the fatigue of living on the streets, I think the utter indignity of having so little to claim as your own is what haunts me about these stories. Most people have had something in their lives before this, if not a home, then at least an apartment and the appearance of a normal life, with work, recreation and a network of friends and family. Now, so little. After a time, would the realities of surviving overcome the sense of loss and indignation, or just feed it?
I keep making my charitable donations in money and in kind, giving my unused stuff not to the larger, more expensive thrift shop but to the one that has lower prices and weekly specials, looking forward to the local Boy Scout food drives. But it all seems so lame.
Why are we so obsessed with limiting executive pay to $500K when a few hundred dollars and a job would transform these peoples’ lives? I really like reading the NYTimes Neediest Cases series, where public and private agencies do just that, transforming individual lives with relatively small acts of charity.
Congress and the President need to look beyond Wall Street to the Mean Streets to really comprehend and deal with the misery that is defining America right now.