Urban Plunge Reflections: What about the Poor in Our Own Backyard? - page 3


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From the Fall 2014 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Urban Plunge Reflections:
What about the Poor in Our Own Backyard?

by Fred J. Clark
C.S. Lewis Institute Fellow

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There Is Plenty of Food for the Homeless. “The pizza you brought is attractive to folks here because it is warm food. Although today, being a Saturday and late afternoon (about 2:00 pm), most folks are already satiated. Many go to local shelters for a free meal. Many avail themselves of the charity of food offered here in the park. Lots of Christian groups come through the park distributing food, especially on the weekends.
  “I appreciate the pizza, but am really not hungry. If you really want to provide a service, bring hot food during the week. We went to the shelter and got food elsewhere for lunch, including a large sandwich, soup, several apples, cookies, granola bars. I am stuffed (while holding out the pizza box to offer slices to other, obviously less coherent, homeless folks ambling over). Also, the food is more appreciated at the end of the month, after folks have run through whatever government benefits they may have received for the month” (e.g., Social Security, Food Stamps).
  People Are Generally Charitable: “I am always impressed and reassured by how caring and generous most people are. On those occasions when I have no money and am really hungry, I will go stand outside the nearby Domino’s (or whatever sounds good to eat) at lunchtime. I tell entering patrons that I am hungry and ask them if they would be so kind as to get me something to eat. It generally does not take more than thirty minutes until someone buys me a meal. Sometimes they just hand me a pizza on the way out. Even better, often they ask beforehand what I would like, and buy me whatever I ask for.”
  Only Sleep Outside: The GFP only sleep out of doors. “We learned early not to sleep in the shelters. One will likely get lice or bed bugs or something there. We sleep in parks mostly. People generally leave us alone. Once in a while—rarely—police will wake you up and ask you to move along. The worst I have ever been treated was when I slept on the steps of a church. In the early morning they brusquely kicked me and insisted that I get out of their doorway. A little ironic and disappointing.”
  What Happens in Winter?:  When we asked how they fare in the winter, the GFP said that they were relative newcomers to homelessness, having begun in the summer of 2013. As we visited with them on a pleasant weekend in early November, they did not know what winter might bring. They suggested that we come find them in February and ask. (Embarrassingly, I admit that I have not done so.)
  Homeless by Choice: “We are homeless by choice. But then really almost everyone you see here is homeless by choice. Surely, some of them made the decision to live on the street while their decision making was impaired by alcohol or drugs or mental illness. But there are plenty of shelters and places to live if one does not want to live on the street.”
  The Homeless Are Connected Electronically and Financially: “Almost everyone you see here has an e-mail account (e.g., through Gmail). They access their accounts at the public library, which provides very good Internet access through an impressive array of publicly available computers. Those with friends, families, and the desire to stay connected do so through e-mail, Facebook, etc. The homeless also have bank accounts into which any government benefits can be directly deposited. Many have SNAP (Food Stamp) electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards onto which their benefits are automatically uploaded at the first of each month.” Apparently there are outlets that illegally redeem the funds on the cards, returning 50 to 85 cents on the dollar (cash) to the card holders.

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