Yahoo news recently carried an article about a college student who lived in his car during his Freshman year because he couldn’t afford housing. He talked about the embarrassment he faced because of it, but his experience is far from unique. Homelessness is a condition too many Americans face, many of them veterans who served their country with honor. Add to their count, the plight of refugees who flee war-torn countries and the number of people without shelter seems greater than stars in the skies.
A person might think it would be easy put a roof over someone’s head, but it isn’t. In 1981, I entered my first terms as a county commissioner hoping to create a joint city/country shelter project. I needed $20,000 from the city and with the county’s contribution I could provide refuge for about 50 homeless women with their children before the onset of winter. How naïve I was to think the plan would be simple. The city turned down my request and I learned later the reason was because a member of that council had decided to start her own project and didn’t want the competition. Her plan never got off the ground. Fortunately mine did but I had to go outside government to get the job done. Labor backed me with volunteers — carpenters, electricians and painters – and corporations contributed money for supplies.
That a politician would promote her political career on the backs of the homeless left a bitter taste in my mouth and was one reason why I turned away from politics. Nonetheless, public life gave me an education. One important lesson was that too many agencies thrive on the ethos of “helping the poor.” Mostly, they create middle class jobs with middle class benefits for themselves and the remains are left to trickle down to the homeless.
After so many years away from politics, I thought my anger was buried; but I was wrong. Recently Vanity Fair excerpted segments of an autobiography about the life of Marella Agnelli, an aristocrat who married a wealthy industrialist. (“Becoming Agnelli,” by Marell Agnelli, Vanity Fair, September, 2014 pg. 297-305) She and her husband owned several mansions and luxurious apartments in their heyday, though it seems they spent little time in any of them:
New York was the place to be in November… Then there was skiing season in Saint-Moritz which lasted until March. In summer it was the French Riviera… (Ibid, pg 302.)
In these troubled times, that a woman could write a book flaunting the profligate lives of the elites while much of the world struggles with hunger turns my stomach. Conspicuous consumption is wicked. To exist as if ignorant of those without shelter, nourishing food or clean water is wicked. To forget that children are being killed in war torn countries every day is wicked. I am no Bolshevik but I feel nothing but rage toward those who live as though oblivious to the universal suffering around them. They are wicked, wicked, wicked.