When I lived on the streets of Toronto, and New York City, there was only two types of people that could be called homeless. There were those that could go home, and those that couldn’t. The ones that could return home annoyed the crap out of me. I’m not talking about all “street people” for the record, I can only infer that which I know from first hand experience, that being when I was young. I’m talking about street youth, teenagers, and in particular, the street youth of Toronto, and New York of the 80’s/90’s.
The teens that could go home, eventually did, the others either got lucky, are still there, or died. To many died.
I am currently reading a book, by Jerold Diamond called The Third Chimpanzee, and within the pages of that book he describes why it seems likely that we do not live forever. There is a trade off between our ability to heal ourselves, and our ability to produce children. He made the analog of the cost of maintaining a car, spending a fortune on diamond ball bearings while not replacing other important parts of the car such as oil. Our bodies tend to follow the same strategy as car owners do, taking care of things till everything falls apart, it’s pointless to take care of just one particular part, if something else will fail causing death, or lack of offspring.
Society, or any civilization throughout history, has always had it’s share of the poor. Regardless of the reasons and causes, it tends to boil down to cost. It costs not only money, but other resources, including emotional costs, that allow situations to occur in an individuals life to become a scrap goat to that society. The strategy that modern civilization has adopted in dealing with the homeless is simple, if it costs us more to deal with the costs of dealing with the homeless, then do nothing. But if the costs of doing nothing causes more costs then doing something to improve the situation, do something. The end result is that society does the minimum that it can do, in China, and Mexico that sometimes means culling.
In North America, it costs less resources to let street kids get involved in drugs, crime, and prostitution, then it does to provide a safe home, education, and food. The proof of this is the fact that there are street kids, otherwise there wouldn’t be any.
It never ceases to amaze me that people tend to do what easy for them, even if it is hard for the short term, then to do what is right. For some reason, people tend to say that ‘such and such’ is somebody’s else problem, not mine. If life was a soap opera, that might be true, but the reality is, just like all water on this planet is connected, so are we. What happens to an individual half way around the world literally has an effect on our individual lives. If you don’t believe me, consider the fact that you are reading this right now, and whatever it is you are thinking has been effected by what I write.
Try not to think of an elephant.
Memematic mind tricks aside, the point is, if all we are, is glorified accountants, then everything is always fine, if we are somehow more, something is terribly wrong.
Over the years, my wife and I have allowed different people to live with us for different reasons. We provide, I hope, a safe and rich environment for people to grow and thrive. If those people cost us more then the risk we are willing to take, then tend to leave rather abruptly. For those that stay for the duration of what is needed for them, all we ask in return is their friendship, and that they do the same for somebody else at a future date.
When people stay with us, I tend to try brainwash them. It fails most of the time, mainly because I warn them that I intend to alter the way they think about things. Fair is fair. My first task when I attempt to alter a persons mind, is to try to figure out what they are already thinking. I do this by asking some very weird questions, one of the first is usually…
“What is the ultimate answer to life the universe and everything?”
Which is a direct quote from Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy. Before the movie came out, if they managed to answer that question with a “42” I knew that they has a love for reading science fiction, or at least British comedies. To love Adams’ work, enough to remember details of dolphin departure, or flower pots, says a lot about a person. So does answering that same question with “Jesus”, you get my point.
If I also asked you what was the last word in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” you hear, and you say “Meat”, I’d know you had spent a least a certain number of hours watching MTV or Much Music during the 80’s. Rather then listening to it on an LP like me. All these types of questions give me a clue as to what interests the individual and where they come from. And also how to talk about the things I wish to brainwash them with.
One really important question is how you divide the difference between right and wrong.
If we allow ourselves to make the clarification of those two extremes, rather then accepting the terms of others, we enter into something that makes us more then the sum of our parts, and begin to see that something is terribly wrong with a society that doesn’t have enough beds, food, or clothing for it’s people. Or worse, enough, but horded by the few.
I find it morally wrong that a youth would find him or herself on the street in any city of the world going hungry, cold, and unloved, in a world where Jim Patterson can sell an SUV that destroys the planet with every gallon of gasoline it consumes.
I find it equally wrong that people that agree with me on that point do not do enough to change it. If enough was being done, it simply wouldn’t be. I might not be able to change the whole world for the better, but I can change mine, and those who have lived/living with me, can hopefully agree with me.