Resources

Sunday, August 28, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Aug 29th: A Homeless Journal Of Sorts


"Children live on one side of dispair, the awakened on the other side."

-Herman Hesse (The Journey To The East)

...people like to count things before they eat...

We've become a generation of people who read labels and counts things before eating...calories, fat and protein content, grams of salt, no gluten, how big or healthy your organs will become if eaten...everything except sugar if it's called something else like corn syrup, "raw" or high glucose.

Now we homeless have a simpler outlook; is it cheap and filling?

I don't count calories, I count how many meals...in other words, do I buy that wonderful ten dollar salad or go with two five dollar burritos...since I like beans, the criteria is stricter; can this meal beat a fifty cent can of beans?

Why buy a Big Mac meal for eight bucks when the Chevron station will sell you two large hot dogs for 1.99? Especially if you can choose between beef, sausage and cheddar filled, with Ivy lobbying strenuously for the latter?

Don't bother with the eating heathy argument. Thanks to America's obsession with eating healthy, the price of even baby carrots has cut rabbits out of the action...but capitalism is adaptable and hot dog and microwave food makers have answered the challenge with a plethora of cheap food guaranteed to induce naps and intestinal regularity as good as any prune.

When you can buy a garden salad with cheese and meat with choice of dressing for two bucks, I'll be first in line...and I root for American food makers to meet the hot dog challenge...otherwise Ivy prefers the cheddar cheese filled hot dogs, and that takes care of lunch for two...now that's the true American way...

...while my guitar gently sleeps...

Cadillacs have a lot of interior space, but it's still a challenge to play a guitar in one. More specifically, to play one without adding nicks, scratches and scuff marks to it's mojo...guitarists will use what is called a "beater," generally a cheapie that's already battered for use around the campfire or in the last few years, a new one that's a repro of an old economy model like the Sears Silvertone, etc.

My problem is that I hate buying a cheap guitar simply as a beater. The one I have, the last of what was once a big collection, is an economy guitar but was chosen because it sounded a lot like my 1933 Gibson.

In other words, I don't want it broken, notwithstanding the fact it's my last guitar. In fact, I kept it even though it has a slightly defective tuning peg because a replacement wouldn't sound like it...even within a model line, individual guitars sound different.

So it's in the same pristine condition from a year ago. Had I known that it would played in a car, maybe I'd have bought a smaller one, but it's too late for that,

Until it gets that first scratch, it's played only when the front seat area is clear and all metal objects (like seat belt buckles) are covered.

The main practice time is late at night because it's quieter and the full sound of the guitar comes out, and to make sure no one around me knows there's a guitar in the car. It's kept hidden behind the front seats under the sun shades and a jacket.

Though it's not an expensive guitar by American standards, it's still an easy thing to sell on Craigslist. That was true even before I hit the road, leaving a guitar in a car exposes it to theft.

It's worth the effort though, being able to play now and then is a real pleasure, and I'm finding that only having one guitar puts the creativity back where it belongs, inside one's mind and fingers.

Also it's like carrying a pocket knife, it's used every so often but it has layers of meaning.

For example, Boy Scout knives are popular as vintage items on eBay and other places. It was the original Swiss Army Knife for many young men.

Those who weren't in the Scouts might think the appeal is in some sort of phallic or movie hero image, but it was part of the rite of passage into adulthood.

Boy Scouts were allowed to carry a knife that in school could get them suspended or sent home. It was part of a young man's initiation into adulthood to carry a tool that had a stringent code of safety and responsibility.

In my troop, even pointing the knife at someone 10 feet away meant you were immediately sent home from a camp. The principle was that you should always be aware of where the point and edge was, that it wasn't a toy.

It was a sort of Bushido code, and it's strictness only enhanced the feeling that you were leaving the playground for bigger things. Even the idea of it being a weapon seemed trivial and juvenile.

...homeless people throughout the ages...

The current picture of the homeless is pretty much what you see in the media...google the term and select a search via images and that's what defines us in most people's minds.

The media does attempt to cover the homeless problem, and is generally sincere, so it can be easy to interpret my comments as criticism, but it's not...it's just clarification.  Describing the antics of some druggies who happen to be homeless as a "homeless problem" is not helpful to the majority that try to stay under the radar and work their way out of the life.

The media has the power to define a group by it's coverage, and does so as human beings, with subconscious or overt agendas and attitudes.

The definition of a homeless person is someone without a home, for whatever reason. Whether that image was negative, positive, or so what, depended on the era and circumstances.

No one has framed Jesus or Buddha's life in homeless terms, or the Chinese and Irish who lived in tents (at best) while building the Transcontinental Railroad. They were defined by what they did, at least by historians.

When a person went off and lived in a cave to contemplate things, it was called acetic, and musicians on tour in medieval times labeled as wandering minstrels or troubadours. Homer, whether it was just him or a traveling band of poets under that franchise name (historical theories vary) is just known as the guy who wrote the Iliad.

...hoboes and tramps...

Hoboes, or tramps have varied in movie images, from Charlie Chaplain's endearing humble soul to Lee Marvin as the tough but pragmatic King Of Hoboes, and songs like Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" described the wandering, desultory life in warm terms.

America doesn't have a long history of seeing homelessness as a problem...in earlier times a person could simply head west and start a new life, and most negative views resulted from the collision of "civilization" and the homeless.

An early literary example is in James Finnimore Cooper's The Pioneers (incidently the first book of the Pathfinder series) where Natty Bumpo (later the Pathfinder or Deerslayer in books about his earlier days) is embroiled in a dispute with a judge over killing a deer. 

The theme is about who owns nature and public ownership and that goes to the heart of any negative image of modern homeless (besides lumping all the subcultures into one group).

In an earlier times, a person could just move on. Which can't happen now, as every piece of this country is under private or "public" ownership. 

It goes without saying that you can't sleep on private property without the owner's consent, and even that isn't possible in most cases due to liability law.

The public ownership of land, which is both real and conceptual, has the irony of prohibiting living on public land even if the if the person is a part of the public.

There no point in getting too deeply into this collision between the Wild West and civilization other than to acknowledge it exists and that the law isn't on the side of the homeless.

The thing about being able to go west, and start a new life was that self sufficiency was possible back then...sure, you had to learn to hunt, face the wrath of some very wronged and ticked off Native Americans (or conclude an individual peace agreement), farm crops or start a business, but it was possible.

Americans still have that core belief, that there's work out there for the taking to any hard working soul, so to some, unemployment is often seen as a lifestyle choice.

Given that life is hard enough for most of the employed mainstream, convincing them that homelessness is a problem can be a hard sell. Asking people who can barely pay a mortgage or rent to shelter or house people at public expense can create resentment.

It's a resentment that serves the privileged, and distracts from the real issues. When the news reports that the government has paid some silly amount for toilet seats, it's met with a shrug or rolled eyes. If the bankers lose people's life savings over crooked loans, they get a trillion dollars.

Yet extension of unemployment benefits get scrutinized and attacked as too expensive.

Again, it's just worth pointing out as a factor in attitudes towards the transients, it's not something that's going to change anytime soon.

What matters is following the money. Most aid and welfare programs are not purely funded by the Feds, it's mainly the state's and by extension counties and cities. That means local funding and taxes.

In other words, the average American may not feel they have any control over billion dollar wars, but they can control what's in their neighborhood. Sort of, that is.

Homelessness is essentially a local problem and that's why media coverage can vary so much in content. The stories have the power to define the problem for that day or week, but that image will persist in viewer's mind afterwards as part of the overall picture.

Run a story about how the "homeless" are creating problems and that's the picture created. Media tends to try and make it a story with conflict, and points of view, and to use quotes that they feel illustrate the story.

The media would never describe a gang killing by ethnicity, yet will simply apply the homeless tag to any story involving transients. It only adds to the generalized narrative, no matter if the media outlet website includes listings of homeless organizations that would give a different picture.

...so what is a homeless person?...

A homeless person is someone without a home. In this era, that means there's no where to go as every bit of property around is owned and regulated to prohibit squatting or settling. 

Any location they can sleep in is decided by law, individual consent or the discretion of the local police or government.

In a country that sees home ownership as an ultimate goal, and essentially makes any alternative besides buying or renting difficult or illegal, it creates a class of homeless.

...subcultures and who's helping...

The homeless population includes a diverse collection of subcultures. Some very much in need of help, some that don't want your help, who just want drugs, don't want to be there, or don't even know they're homeless.

Give traditional aid to the wrong group of people, like druggies, and you'll get ripped off. Yet there's very good reasons for society to deal with and help them. The problem is finding the right method or program.

Like most government efforts, helping the homeless through public programs is probably getting more expensive than simply building housing, though HUD has proven that public housing can be a sinkhole for public dollars.

There's no easy answers; there's a tangle of organizations and agencies that will absorb any new money allotted for a fresh new effort. The area is unregulated, so I've heard from homeless both good and bad things about the various efforts to help. 

...the service that everyone likes...

The one service that never gets criticism is soup kitchens or food bank organizations. Any homeless person I've ever talked to is grateful that they can get a free meal at St. Vincent's or elsewhere.

If in doubt where to donate or volunteer, try one of the above. It may not be a permanent solution, but it helps where it's needed most, keeping people alive on day at a time and with dignity. I've never heard otherwise from people who'd know.

...why money fails...

It's a consequence of "throwing money at the problem," which is really thinking that money is an all powerful God that solves any problem. 

Money solves legal problems for the rich, it can buy votes, allow a person to treat lower classes with contempt, influences people, corrupts, makes people commit crimes, and open many doors.

People will criticize aid programs as wasted money and cite the cost, but money can only buy things...you can't "buy" an end to homelessness, it's not an aircraft carrier or a jet for a Senator.

...let's get down to the nitty gritty...

All of that stuff is just intellectual and historical underpinnings that influence attitudes, but what causes the positive or negative view of homeless in the average person?

When you see some anonymous troll telling the "drug taking parasite homeless" to go get a job, or wondering why the police haven't rounded them all up (and put them in jail or at least out of their neighborhood), what is the real complaint, what do they really want?

One theory I've heard from other homeless is that those angry types want them punished for not being like they picture themselves...that is, someone grinding it out, paying rent or mortgage, putting food on the table, and having to support a lot of free loaders who won't buckle under and do the same thing.

That's a good observation, and valid in many ways, but the struggle of life and supporting free loaders can't be the only explanation.

The whole government is a massive burden on the taxpayers and the news brings constant reminders that big business and special interest groups literally divide up tax money as if it was theirs...people see an entertainment industry full of people who think their talent deserves money and fame and not as good fortune that's given them by a public who still has to work for every dollar.

Those are all just abstractions to the average person, but it all pounds into them the point that there's people up there that sponge off the public and feel they deserve it, or worse, think they're just smarter and everyone else is just a sucker.

The attitude attached to the homeless is anger that comes out from under cover in such places as comment sections, and the transient is an easy target for that anger, and some homeless are their own worst enemy and add to that by their behavior.

It's simply easier to hit out at some homeless person than a Senator or CEO.

...we can only hate what we see...

What needs to be understood, even by the media who should know better, is that a lot of what people see in the news is only a part of the homeless population. A large number prefer to stay under the radar and will rarely be seen unless looked for, or simply out of the camera shot.

Others are in camps, or park in places that only the police know are there but are left alone under compassionate enforcement policies or only acted on if trouble starts.

That's a subject in itself, how a camp forms or an area becomes a night sleep area, and how those manage to become trouble spots. 

I'll describe what I've seen in the half dozen or so areas where such gatherings  and how those end up badly in most cases.

The Ivy Corner: in which she provides compelling glimpses of life on the road.

Today's Topic: Being a good watchdog

Ivy seen here pulling sentry duty in her role as watchdog. Since she is pretty small, her field of vision is improved by taking station on various vistas.


Ivy seen here scanning the horizon for threats from a tree...