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Do We Care? My Response to Bill Holland's Story

Updated on March 18, 2018
cam8510 profile image

Chris practices free writing which often produces humorous or introspective results with practical applications to living life more fully.

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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.

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    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Lawrence, you say that in NZ you are really trying to fix the problem. It is admirable for you to still have the emotional element. I believe we have regressed here to the point where we shoo the homeless off like vermin. When everyone is economically strapped, we say we can't afford to help. When there is more than enough, we distracted by our own wealth. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us, but I don't think he meant for us to purposely maintain that socioeconomic condition. Thanks for reading and for the valuable input.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      6 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Chris

      Things here are a little different, see all the ones who were in the institutions here get all the help they need. There are homeless here, but they aren't the 'wino' type (and I'm not meaning that in a disrespectful way), it much mire hidden.

      Go round the streets at night, you'll find people, whole families sleeping in their cars! Mum and dad both have jobs, but they still can't afford even the basics. They're call 'the working poor and no one sees them.

      Yes we care, and here at least we're trying to fix the problem.

      Great hub, and much food for thought.

    • profile image

      robertzimmerman2 

      6 months ago

      I understand how your perspective changed over time. In some ways that is what should happen to thinking people. I'm not saying a person's views should change from or to a certain direction, just that we all should be learning and open to change.

      As far as the mental hospitals closing during that time, it is my understanding that most folks were institutionalized against their will by family or government and groups sued for the rights of the committed and won. Unfortunately that meant they were just booted out and the funding dried up because the reason vanished. Too many of the institutionalized were in no position to live "normal" lives so here we are.

      Where I live many homeless are not right of mind and do cause repeated issues by just not being able to cope and understand. This even relates to other issues such as the Parkland event. Cruz should have been admitted and treated but no one dares for getting sued.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Lluvia, Gracias por leer y por tu comentario

    • profile image

      liesl5858 

      6 months ago

      Your story is also happening here in England. So many beggars on the streets that need help but don't know how to help them. Some have drug issues, some have alcohol issues, some are victims of wars, some just don't have a home to go to and many more reasons and we do care about them but does the government do? This is the question. Some church organisations try and help a few but there is so many of them. Well written hub and thank you.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      7 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Chris, your well written views on the homeless situation do tear at the fabric of our complacency. I've felt like you once did about giving money to some of the panhandlers after an experience when I worked a job downtown. I personally saw where the money went when I watched a man staggering around with a half-full gallon of wine that he purchased with his proceeds. The police arrested him, so I imagine that he at least got a clean place to sleep it off and hopefully, a meal to go with his criminal charges. I try not to lump everyone into one bucket based on their political views. As a conservative and a Christian, my concerns are for those in need and like you, I have no viable solution. I like the idea of tiny houses and established villages where people can live safely and affordably off the street. That seems to be working in some cities.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      7 months ago from Shelton

      I like the commentary delivery you used to get this hub across... But I wonder.. population explosion.. and the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.. will we see more of this.. Heaven knows we can't help everyone and some, will fall by the wayside.. Chris sorry about trying to pull my views over your well written hub.... Awesome share

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      manatita, I believe in you and in your spirituality. Issues like this are the testing grounds for the worth of various belief systems. Those that inspire people do DO right rather than BELIEVE "right" are the movements that will accomplish something in this world.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Eric, it does not surprise me to hear that you know these unfortunate people by name. Bless you, as you interact with those who need help.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Dora, you are so right. Thoughtful reflection produces results. Thanks for sharing.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Bill, this one of the strengths of HP. One person can speak out and motivate others. You did it on this issue. What will be the result? Maybe a few people will change their attitude and behavior in a way that allows them to reach out and make a difference where they live.Maybe someone else is inspired to run for political office and propose practical answers rather than walk the party line. Thanks for not burying your head in the Olympia sand.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Marie, personal compassion will never go out of style and can never be replaced by a government program. That is one way we can all be involved. If we simply act in a self-sacrificing way, a lot could be done. But I think people are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and give up. Thanks for highlighting that part of the solution.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Jo, There were many good reasons for dealing with the hospitals for the mentally ill. They needed a huge transformation. I wrote a short story about electroconvulsive therapy up to the 1960s. It was horrifying. But one-third of the homeless are mentally ill and we can't expect them to solve their problems.

      My political changes began when I chose to consciously debate within myself some of the big issues. Honesty is the essential element, not loyalty to a political party or a religion. Once I began to allow myself to think, the answers became much more clear. I did not simply switch to being a liberal. I ignore conventional wisdom as well as the established movements and organizations. I identified the problems and asked myself what were the most practical solutions. Solutions exist, but people have to be willing to think for themselves and break away from organizations that have gotten us nowhere for decades. Parties, organizations, and movements that simply polarize and do nothing practical to solve problems need to die. Problems are solved through healthy debate and compromise. Any other approach becomes part of the problem. Incremental improvements on big issues are superior to principled stagnation. That is how I began to change and how I continue to form my positions today.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      NIkki, I am late responding, and you have already posted your own hub on the issue. Thank you for participating. You have a heart of gold. I know you care deeply.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Sally, the soup kitchen may be gone, but the volunteers who ran it still have a heart for the homeless. Something new will emerge, I hope.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      7 months ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      John, there are people on the street by choice as well. I"m not sure what to do about them, but according to Poverty Insights 10/14/2013, one-third of the homeless in the US are mentally ill. We could begin there. It is a worldwide problem. Thanks for reading.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      7 months ago from london

      This is a really tough subject. We all know them, the unfortunate, the poor ...and others too. Sure I have served them in some capacity or the other, but I really do not know the answers. This is a difficult one. I rely on Spirituality and I trust daily that it shows me a way to tackle this one. A very passionate subject.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      7 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Chris I have thee pleasure of knowing several of our locals. Joe and Bill swap the median near the off and on ramps to the freeway. Sally and a huge black man who I do not know work in front of the big grocery store. Hammer used to work the Bodega but there is a new guy there I do not know. Guess I should introduce myself to my neighbor.

      I live in an unincorporated part of our large county next to the city of San Diego. Their mayor Faulkner is on a major crusade to provide for the stereotypical city homeless. Making progress I hear.

      They have had major outbreaks of Hepatitis and TB over there. I understand more than 60 died during the last one. I heard they just spent something like 3 million dollars on two huge tent type structures That can serve and provide for 100's a piece. Actually thousands can get food and cleaned.

      I worked for a shelter for a bit and got to talking to some. There were some beds available that some turned down. "rather be outside".

      Now out here in the county we have plenty of open space. They literally move out to the edge to make the "homes" in a large canyon that I walk frequently. These folks out here are "campers". You can actually call it a lifestyle of choice. "Ain't gonna hang out near the "Po Po" (police).

      San Diego is a Mecca of sorts. Good weather, lots of good free stuff and in general a Po Po that does not "roust".

      The hardest cases get their checks and when they have a slum apartment just cannot stay organized enough to get that money to the landLORD. Since we are "Fighter Town USA" our vets have the opportunities through private foundations to get back on their feet. That is if they still have both of them.

      Such a complicated mess. And yet within their subculture there is actually structure like property rights. One camp actually has a "Mayor". Theft is virtually non-existent and sharing is the norm. Fights are extremely rare. And they account for an infinitesimal portion of crime.

      Sorry for the length.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      7 months ago from The Caribbean

      Even a response to this article takes more time than a reflective minute. We have much to think about as individuals, and much to do both as individuals and societies. Thanks for underscoring this problem.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Chris, this is very moving. We were of the same belief at one time. I'm not always a bleeding heart Liberal, but damn it, our system is broken, and we can do better. Thank you for writing this important response.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      7 months ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

      I haven't read the article, but I was raised in a small rural community where neighbors took care of one another when the need arose. No questions asked. No money involved.

      Sometimes it's just a matter of talking to that person on the street. You may not be able to give them everything you'd like them to have, but just listening gives them more than you know.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      7 months ago from Tennessee

      I remember those mental health hospitals and I believe they were closed for good reason. I'd almost rather see a loved one of mine on the street than in one of those warehouses. The alternatives that were supposed to be developed when those hospitals closed never developed. And that is the fault of our society. Many things need to change, beginning with our individual consciousness being raised. Kudos to you and Bill for moving that along.

      I'd be interested in learning about your political conversion.

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 

      7 months ago from London

      Your response is great to Bill’s story Chris.This is a story of every country, not only America.Even here in London, we see many sitting on sides of road asking for help which really breaks something deep inside.And it’s growing day by day.

      There must be some solution to this thing, local council is just quiet and seems to be playing nothing to combat this serious issue.

      It’s very painful for me to see such people and with the feeling you cannot help them, my breath seems to be stuck when I see a homeless person sitting on the side of a street :(

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      7 months ago from Norfolk

      Very powerful stuff. This is not just an American story, the streets in the UK are also home to the homeless. Homelessness seems impossible to ignore and yet we do, we walk past sleeping people on the streets, those who have been unable to get a decent night's sleep. A local soup kitchen which has been a market stall by day for years and a soup kitchen at night run by volunteers has just been demolished by the local council. I guess even they found it too uncomfortable to witness humanity trying to survive.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      What an important commentary you have delivered here, Chris. A country can't call itself a success while its streets are full of homeless people. Many forced there through no fault of their own. Society as a whole needs to take responsibility for fixing this growing problem. It can be done but it takes a willing sacrifice by those better off.

      I haven't read Bill's story, but now I have to do that as well. Thanks for making me aware.

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