Friday, February 17, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Literary Homeless Journal 2/17


"And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep...tired...or it malingers"

"I am no prophet-and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat,
and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid."

-T.S. Eliot (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

...freeloaders and other terms...

One of the biggest arguments against the homeless is that they're a bunch of freeloaders. Secondary argument that's sometimes applied to them is that they "don't pay taxes," and live off society.

The argument that they don't pay taxes is generally based on whether they pay state or federal income tax. The fact is around 50% of the population doesn't pay federal income tax or live off of some sort of government assistance...not to mention that virtually all tax cheats are from the non-homeless population.

The homeless, regardless of how they get their income, if any, pay most of the same taxes as most respectable society. They pay sales tax, tolls, and various fees. Most buy goods and services like everyone else, and contribute to the economy. The homeless who panhandle aren't doing it to amass a fortune, they're doing it to buy services and goods. They don't hide it overseas to avoid taxes.

If it is for drugs, they're patronizing the same distributors who serve respectable society's needs, and are rarely the prime customers. 

Which I should add, it's a business that in many cases has cost the lives of tens of thousands of Mexicans and Americans in drug wars over market share and contributed to massive corruption in society. Most Americans buy drugs that has blood on it.

Most Americans don't realize they are also technically "freeloaders." That is to say, "subsidized" services. Though I'd rather term it as interdependence.

If you take a look at the average bill of somebody who sends their kid to a private school, that's closer to the actual cost. Most schools wouldn't survive without bond measures, property taxes on people who don't have kids, government subsidies, and people willing to buy candy and other consumer goods for school fund raisers.

Most people wouldn't have health insurance if the people who were healthy weren't paying into the system. People in their SUVs don't have to wait in a gas line, or endure gas rationing, thanks to the government spending billions in the Middle East and sacrificing the lives of soldiers, many of whom are from the poor, not the upper class, to preserve the oil supply from the Middle East and to avoid putting up with unsightly oil platforms off the Malibu coast. It won't be the elite whose water supply is destroyed by fracking.

If everybody had to pay for the public street in front of their homes and apartments, our neighborhoods would be a checkerboard of concrete, gravel, and dirt. Somebody, somewhere, is helping to pay for that pavement who isn't benefiting from it, due to the nature of the tax system.

Virtually all Americans are benefiting from cheaper goods manufactured by overseas factories that hire people for wages no American would ever tolerate. That also goes for our food.

The list could go on, and the list wouldn't be complete without the billions, and probably trillions wasted by government officials in their everyday duties and corrupt deals that the population shrugs off and generally tolerates as being out of their control. 

There's a lot Americans working in government funded projects that are unnecessary, or for devices and weapons that will never work as advertised, or see combat. These people are not perceived as crooks, or people ripping off society, but as hard-working people just trying to make a taxpayer expense. It's a matter of perception, and often are class notions of what's respectable or not.

Without taxpayer help through disaster relief, there'd be hundreds of thousands of people added to the homeless population after each hurricane, flood or tornado. The distance separating the two groups is smaller than one might think.

...the homeless aren't all saints...

That doesn't mean that every homeless person is a worthwhile human being, and contributes to society, but that goes for members of respectable society.

To their credit, most Americans don't view homeless as worthless, vermin, or freeloaders. Such terms are generally applied by trolls, and a certain segment of the population that is self-centered, and lacking empathy for their fellow man.

America was built by homeless people having to leave their countries to start a new life, and who came willingly or unwillingly. Notwithstanding the fact that the process involved screwing over a lot of native Americans, the important point is that even the richest American are only a few generations removed from people who were often not much different than at least some of today's homeless, and in more than a few cases got their fortunes through criminal activity or labor practices that are now outlawed.

The sympathetic Grapes of Wrath image of the homeless workers came later. In their time, they were called "Okies" and more often than not, looked at with contempt. Acceptance came later as these Americans were finally seen as human beings.

...perception counts...

We're entering an era of change with AI and robots that will be as most momentous and cruelly Darwinian as the Industrial Age...the younger generation is moving into the mainstream workplace and replacing older workers, and rightly so, it's their turn...big business is working overtime to make humans obsolete...the old Robber Barons and Captains of Industry made very little attempt to mitigate the effects of change, as it wasn't their concern, and the high tech visionaries who dream of an automated society aren't giving much thought to what humans will do without a job or relevant job skills.

The only help many of us will get as society changes will be from other ordinary people, both from direct help and in forcing governments to do their job of seeing to everyone's welfare and not an elite.

If treatment of homeless continues its current trend towards trying to force them into an already overloaded social services system and unregulated shelters, it'll be like refugee camps and badly run jails...if society doesn't begin to recognize that the homeless are a diverse group and need a variety of effective services and shouldn't be lumped into a media defined rabble, then the institutional knowledge won't be there to handle the large groups of people who will be displaced by the technological changes in the next decade.

I think it starts with casting aside the various media images, and humanizing the problem...the difference between thinking homeless people are losers or parasites, and viewing workers displaced by robotics and AI tech as regrettable casualties of progress will be very slight, as the contempt shown to those two groups will be the same in nature once poverty takes hold, and the unemployed begin to overtax social support systems and the remaining taxpayers begin to feel the pinch. Political liberalism can become social conservatism when the tax rate begin to climb.

If you wonder how the economic elite views the future; it's a vision that sees millions on welfare, and the rich living in bunkers and in offshore havens to escape the wrath of those affected by the obsolescence of human labor. These are the future visionaries.

The rising cost of sending a kid to college should have been a warning to society that entry into the future economy would only be available to an ever shrinking number of  people who could afford it. That, and many other things will be the legacy of generations that preferred spending money on big screen TVs and cheap overseas labor to social infrastructure.

...the gift to be simple...

One of the foot homeless around here is an old can tell because instead of a single cart he pulls along a train with a two wheeled baby bike ricksha as a caboose. Looks around 60 or so, well tanned from the elements and with a trimmed beard.

He hangs around outside of the various stores on the benches, and drinks white wine. Sometimes there's others there and they just hang out, or he sits alone quietly looking very tired. Doesn't openly panhandle, so there's store regulars he depends on to spot him looking desolate or he knows by experience who to hit up for cash. 

Everything about the guy shows experience at survival at this level, right down to his train being properly tarped before rain hits.

He's one type of homeless that scares me the most...his life is a possible outcome...without ambition or dreams, I could just become another adept survivor who lives in a small world with bottles of cheap wine as my milestones. There must have been a time when he wanted more, and there must have been a moment or series of events that crushed that hope. 

Everyone has moments of self doubt, or fear...mine is that I haven't recognized where I'm really at and that I'm really a mentally ill homeless person living in a dream world, though Ivy reminds me three times a day that I'm really a dog feeder...a brutal reality, but purpose does give meaning, no matter how small. I'm not the first person whose sanity was saved by a dog.

Those who think that God, dreams, ambition, or goals are meaningless in the face of "reality" or that life has to have winners and losers just haven't seen enough of life yet. This guy still can drop further till they have to pick him up off the grass in the downtown park. He's moving downwards and like many in the real world, thinks things are under control and continues the slide. He's the same as all of us, he's just further down the hill, and what direction you're going in still makes a difference. one year anniversary...

Update 2/20: Today is the one year anniversary of the day I became homeless. My first thought was to treat it like my birthday, that is to say no big deal, but it's also a day of thanks...I'm sitting in the second of three storms due this week, in a car with my dear friend Ivy, and while it isn't exactly a wonderful day, it's far from a bad one.

The insurance company granted me an extension on my policy, adding their prayers for my situation, and a recent flow of donations ensured that Ivy and I have decent food and may not feel lucky to others but I've been seeing what these storms have done to other homeless, moving about in raincoats and some not, and I know it could be a lot worse. Saw another guy eating out of a garbage can last night, but as I approached with the intent I'd giving him a few dollars he took off, probably in fear, there was three highway patrol cars nearby, and I know the feeling and thoughts that might have been running through his mind. That plus no one likes being seen rummaging through a garbage can.

I saw something yesterday...I was in the lot doing the promo work and it was extremely windy. A hawk appeared in front of my car, and then just hovered, facing south, and just climbing and hovering higher and higher, did that for a couple of minutes. The thought came to mind, "a hawk soars higher in a strong wind," and it is similar to Native American thought that hawks were messengers from the spirit world, and in the Bible, from Job 39:26 King James "Does the hawk fly by your wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?"

I doubt that it means I'll win the lottery :-) and a strong wind means that there's more to endure, but there is a strong possibility of relocation south to Castro Valley this week and a haven where I can work on my new business and book, I'll know more Wednesday. So I think it's all more of a sign that my path is going to move further South again.

I started out homeless with very few friends and only the family being my Silicon Valley, you lose a lot of friends after a layoff, though I'd hesitate to call such people real friends.

I spent the first few months making all the usual mistakes a homeless person makes, and hiding due to the usual embarrassment and shame...I punished myself after the usual new tech job contract didn't appear within a couple of months and ran afoul of the CHP and ended up in of the things that changed was that I outed myself as homeless and asked for help, and found a world full of caring friends who've literally kept Ivy and me alive and in an independent shelter of a running car...I think that I'll be out of homelessness this year, it feels like it's nearing an end of a phase, and when that happens, I'll tell everyone who'll listen that it wouldn't have happened without the help of hundreds of people who help...none were rich or famous and none had anything to gain by helping and no one would have noticed if they didn't...the goodness of people is something I've seen and am convinced exists and it motivates me every day to keep trying...I've been able to avoid drugs and booze, and the crippling apathy of hopelessness, and self pity. I'm glad that Ive seen the things I've seen this year, I'll never be the same person I was a year ago, and I thank all of you for that.

-Al Handa

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THE IVY CORNER: Ivy seen below in various ads in her new job as shih tzu supermodel for Boogie Underground Media...very fun to be working her as a partner in this new venture.

Here's the blurb for Boogie Underground Media:

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Email for list of services and prices starting from only $5.00!

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1 comment:

  1. What a read! You've inspired me, enlightened me, educated me, & broken my heart & then patched it back together & lifted the short span of a sacred Sunday morning read. Thank you Al. Please keep faith as you keep moving...forward. I look so forward to your book. What an important sharing it will be.