Do We Care? My Response to Bill Holland's Story
Do We Care?
Do we care? When we see the personification of filth and misery sitting on the curb with a sign that says, I’m hungry, does it cause an ache deep inside? It does for me. Go read Bill Holland’s “fiction” story titled, The Old Man by the Side of the Road. Read it and weep. Then forget that it’s a work of fiction because really, it isn’t. That is somebody’s story.
Do we care? You know what? I think we do care. I think we see them and hear them. But damn it, we don’t know what to do. I’m powerless in the face of such a monstrous social issue. Buying them a cup of joe and listening for a few minutes might just be the highlight of the decade for that man or woman.
I used to have the opinion that you don’t give money to the homeless because they will just use it to get some dope or another bottle. I gave that idea up. When the coins drop out of my hand into theirs, it is no longer mine. He or she will do with it what they will, and they’ll use it to survive, just like you and I would do.
The Real Hell
What do you need to survive? Food, clothing and shelter, that’s what we’ve heard since the day we were born. But that’s for the average guy. There are men and women all around us who have walked through hell. Some have been in war zones that I won’t even attempt to describe because that would be fiction. I’ve never been in a war zone. I don’t know what it’s like to live day after day, night after night just waiting for that round to rip through my chest or for that IED to take my leg off. And I do not know what it's like to walk through a village and know that even the children want to kill me—so I kill them. I know someone has to be the judge in those situations. I'm just glad it isn't me.
There are other kinds of hell. Victims of child sexual abuse live in hell every day. That trusted relative, neighbor, family friend or sibling does the dirty deed that changes the victim's life forever. Growing up in the home of a clinically diagnosed narcissist is hell. Emotional abuse is no less harmful than physical abuse. Just because bones are unbroken and skin unbruised, doesn’t mean the person is well. When children suffer abuse of any kind, something breaks. They may learn how to cope, but they are still broken,
A Social Experiment That Failed
Many of these broken, hurting people end up on the street. You see them and so do I. This is America. Is this the kind of country you want? The hospitals for the mentally ill were shut down across the nation in the waning years of the twentieth century. Where did those people go? They did not disappear. Society fixed nothing with that false solution. At the time, I supported closing the doors. I lived five blocks from the Northern Michigan State Hospital. I watched the former patients walk past my house during the day and night. Those broken people slept under bridges, in shuttered warehouses, alleys, cardboard boxes, sewers, and abandoned subway tunnels. And there they remain to this day.
They crawl out into the daylight each morning and take their places on the street corners to beg for our money. We recognize them. We know them by their faces. If we stopped just long enough to get a name, we could open the window every morning after that and shout hello. It’s like their going to work just like we are, except their work is begging for a few of the dollars we make at relatively well-paying jobs.
The Status Quo Isn't Working
Is that how a civilized, advanced, caring society operates? Is the answer to the problem of the homeless to drop pennies into their palms at street corners? Is that really an option? Some of you are where I was just a few years ago. I was a political conservative. I am not a flaming liberal now, but I’ve made some adjustments. I deal with reality, not a right-wing Utopia where the homeless don’t exist. They do, and a conservative opinion does not take one poor soul off the street.
It is time to rethink our decisions of the past. Most of these people on the street need help. It may be a period during which they can get their financial feet back under them. But many will require much more. Are we willing to provide what they need, or are lower taxes more important than caring for a fellow American?
To some extent, the mental health hospitals need to be reopened. We can do better than we did back then to make them efficient and cost-effective, but we must bring them back. If you’ve got a better idea, I’ll gladly hear it.
This is my response to Bill’s story. Maybe you have something to say as well.