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Zen and the Art of Being Displaced

We slave and obsess over money to make our dreams happen, or to just get by. Ideally we should look for ways to cut out the middleman, although the sacrifices are blatantly obvious for anyone with a conscience. But the ones who try and fail to play the game of life suffer badly in other ways incomprehensible to the majority of the public.

Last July the Intercept ran a pair of related stories. One was a sharp piece by Charles Davis concerning the illegalities of homelessness in Los Angeles, and the other was a photo-gallery offering portraiture of life on Skid Row. Judging by comments to the articles, the very concept of tent cities here in America reads like alien-speak, or what some today would refer to as fake news. I know otherwise, from first-hand experience at that, as I have been homeless myself off and on throughout my adult life.

To be sure, most people would be shocked by just how many among the homeless choose not to play the guilt by association game of contributing to such a bogus society. But do they really deserve punishment for doing the right thing?

Being homeless is not easy, but for reasons other than what is presumed. Living without a home means that even the slightest fragment of privacy is entirely nonexistent. It simply does not exist. And being homeless means you can never sleep when you want to, or need to, ever. It means constant distraction, as there is never a “time” or “place” to buckle down and get some work done. It means sacrificing most of your worldly possessions, for lack of a place to house them. It means never eating what you want and it means absolutely never eating enough. It means having to go days, even weeks or months without the chance to properly clean yourself, making the prospects of finding day labor that much more impossible. And why bother meeting new people, new relationships, when you have nothing tangible left to offer?

Homeless shelters are wholly out of the question, even for those open to such assistance. Too many social programs have had their Federal funding slashed over the last decade, so that now most shelters only apply to those homeless who also are in need of drug rehabilitation and/or those just leaving jail. If you are neither a junkie or a felon you have no help waiting for you, regardless of how many children are depending on you or what your story may be. I argue that junkies and felons comprise a small percent of the total homeless population however, just as junkies and felons comprise the lesser half of the total population in general. The exceptions offering assistance are usually church-run programs, but if you have no interest in attending any church service those are clearly out of the equation. I was never interested in signing on with any religion. I lack a noteworthy criminal record and so by no means am I an ex-con. I also have no reasons for substance abuse recovery. If none of those apply then said shelters literally have no place for you. It’s like that most everywhere in the states, from what I have seen, and actually leaves out several million folks in dire need of help that mainstream media completely ignores. And I have seen time and again how the very few friendly souls willing to lend a hand tend to need a rather big hand themselves.

While even the United States Census Bureau is clueless when it comes to figuring the total number of homeless in this nation, we are exposed to increasing national news stories going on about the astronomical numbers of persons receiving food stamps here in the states. The EBT food stamps benefit system is a welfare program to give those in need, courtesy of taxes paid, the means to purchase groceries. Years ago they were literally bits of paper, along the lines of Monopoly money, but at some point they switched over to an electronic system very similar to debit cards. They cannot be used on non-food items specifically so that struggling families can feed themselves. Starvation is not the ideal way to die for anybody. The cards get refilled electronically once per month, and after every five or six months each recipient is called in to their regional office for a review to see if circumstances have changed or not.

I have known persons who convinced themselves accepting welfare support would be a manner of getting taxes back. There were slim times between jobs where the extra help was vital, and they knew others in turn who needed to borrow or trade for the food stamps along the way, as their own circumstances were even worse. So I understand the system and how it works. Certainly, being human a small percentage of the total number of recipients do find ways to abuse the lifeline, but assistance (financial or otherwise) for persons struggling tends to come more from other persons struggling than any proper channel anyway.

But you know what nobody in mainstream media ever acknowledges? Homeless are not technically supposed to receive food stamp benefits. Every state has their own guidelines, but they all must abide by Federal standards. To be in the program you need a permanent street address, as they will not accept a PO box or motel address (weekly or otherwise) or anything other than the real deal. Bureaucracy in action, totally. Some may lie about residency in order to receive refills to their EBT card, because increasingly it is only the wealthy that can afford to stay put for very long.

Traditional welfare programs help a lot of people, even if certain political convictions see them as a huge waste of money, regardless of the fact that corporations get billions more in government assistance totaling to far higher costs for the general public. Media representing this far side from the middle bitch and moan about the cost of welfare programs, but evidently few mainstream reporters have taken the time to uncover just how little monthly support food stamp recipients receive from the Federal government. My mom gets 16 food stamp bucks per month. Who can survive on 16 bucks worth of food per month? If most traditional welfare recipients are only getting in the low double digits range, how does that honestly factor against the billionaires getting billions more from the government to add to the billions already in their private bank accounts?

So as vast as the numbers of those getting traditional welfare might be (largest in the nation’s history by bounds and leaps), keep in mind it does not include 99.999% of the actual homeless community across the states. Those represent two separate blocks of people. I would say the two sums together, contrary to official estimates, easily represent a full half of the greater population, if not more. While traditional welfare recipients can be gauged, statistics for the homeless are always downplayed (except for Thanksgiving when local news crews around the nation suddenly remember they have soup kitchens in their communities), because such data-sets are embarrassing for any and every city, and because census-takers have no Earthly clue where to even begin looking anyhow. Like trying to hit moving targets.

Take away a man’s home, his employ and his means to attain money legally, and he is made to feel sub-human. Take away his links to the world, his means to pay for a phone and internet, his motorized transportation, etc, and he has become an island. Take away his ability to feed himself, and what is left of him but to continue moving? Because without money and the things only obtainable with it, a man has nowhere to go. You cannot pay rent, you cannot pay for the movie theater ticket, you cannot pay to go out to eat, then you gotta keep moving on. Money does not lead to mobility, and “upward mobility” is pure mythology, together with trickle-down economics forming twin cryptid siblings conjoined at the ego.

The truth of the matter is that having money allows you to stop, and the more money someone has the less they can afford to alter their routines because god forbid they should mix with the commoners. Same exclusive clubs, same elite schools, same entitled social circles, etc, hiding away in the pocket dimensions of their manicured version of reality. It is a miserable lot to be homeless in today’s world, but take away a man’s ability to even stop and catch his breath, to find a shelter from the storm, and becoming part of a slave-caste starts to sound like a great alternative. To paraphrase Salman Rushdie entirely out of context, if the mountain will not come to Mahound then Mahound must go the mountain. If basic access to sustenance, the most important staple of life beyond oxygen, is out of reach then the search for it is all-consuming and the quest never stops.

Funny how that works. “Let them eat cake” indeed.