"WHAT? Phoenix has NO veterans who are homeless?"
Phoenix last month was credited as the first city to end chronic homelessness among military veterans, part of a nationwide push.Skip to the end for that story, or just go Google -- 's why I quoted that.
And now the beginning I wrote before I happened upon today's happy-tearsiest story:
Probably five minutes before I clicked to publish yesterday's diary, I saw more articles about "the homeless," that homogeneous mass we all know and too many people ignore.
Coincidentally, around this time of year, groups all over the country count how many people in their areas are homeless so money can be either appropriated or fought for on behalf of people whose address is a park bench or a shelter.
I didn't know that event was looming when I wrote Cold. I just ... you see so many pictures from warm showing cold, and what about the people who can't get to the warm and don't have a camera to display the cold?
Today and for the next week or so -- the event has different names in different places, and the counts all seem to be taking place around now -- we will find out roughly how many people in America are homeless, according to the best efforts of the tens of thousands of volunteers who count them.
Ever see a company brag about how much money it pays its employees? No, not a government agency saying a job pays between seventy-five thousand and ninety-three thousand dollars. A company bragging about pay below the senior executive level -- even bragging about how much its custodial workers make.
Aside from CEOs, financial analysts and celebrities, nobody talks about how much people get paid. Nobody brags about it publicly.
Companies will hire for whatever position that requires two to five years of experience and a degree in whatever talk about their robust benefits, including gym membership and free underground parking and a 401(K) and bagels and fruit and all. But you have to get to the interview or offer stage to find out how much the job pays. It's even funnier when companies require a salary history and compensation requirement to be so much as considered -- "we're not going to tell you what this job pays, but we'd really like to know how much we can get away with not paying you."
So sites like glassdoor.com exist for people to anonymously tell the public what they make so you can do the work and find out if the company with an opening in your area will pay worth a damn or if you should just not even bother writing the introduction letter.
About fifty years ago, the situation was similar in one field, whose employers' management discouraged discussion of compensation and even lied to employees about what their better-performing co-workers were earning to dissuade them from trying to command more money.
The situation was actually worse than that -- getting a similar job in the field, but for a different employer, was difficult and sometimes impossible, if memory serves -- but the point is that this discouraged communication fostered extremely low worker wages. Once things opened up, workers' pay increased significantly, to the point where this employee recently --
And now you mouse over the URL and discover I'm talking about Major League Baseball, home of the old Reserve Clause, which Curt Flood fought.
Now, imagine the National Teacher of the Year signing a contract and imagine it being on the news. Imagine a research scientist at Eli Lilly making the news with a contract signing.
Imagine a librarian at Yale bragging about how much she was making.
Imagine a Yale library cleaner bragging about how much he was making.
For that to happen, companies would have to bid for employees. I understand the economics of why that won't happen -- we don't have a worker shortage -- but imagine that ethos in just one company.
It would spread. Other area companies would brag about not the perks -- $30 toward a gym membership is great, but give me that $30 and let me use it for what I need (and I realize I just supported a libertarian argument) -- but the wages.
A company that did that could pick from a far larger pool of willing, eager employees. And it could change the way we think about employment.
Companies could go further by bragging about not just how much they paid their workers but how much they had improved their communities.
"We repaired the run-down Robinson Middle School." That's a hell of a reason to join a company.
"We have a satellite location in Ghana and employees there make twice the daily rate." Sign me the fuck up for an interview.
"We employ the people in this area who used to be homeless."
The PR alone boggles the mind. And of course, companies do things like this. Grocery stores give away lots of product for the tax writeoff. One former employer publishes deceased veterans' obituaries for free if they can't pay.
But imagine a company being partly responsible for keeping everyone warm, clothed and fed. People would buy stuff they didn't even need just to support that effort.
Before I started giving food to food banks, we had more food than we needed, but we were saving it up because we were still paying down some nontrivial debt -- roughly five thousand dollars in medical and moving expenses. So when we got something for eighty percent off, we kept it because we would be eating it.
After about four months of that, ... we had a sizable amount of food. Our couponing could back then have supported two families.
One day, as I was walking into a grocery store for what I call corporate raiding -- I walked in with coupons and walked out having used some of the coupons and spent about eight cents on roughly twelve dollars worth of groceries -- I saw a man walk up to the store, far from any doorway, and just stand there. I figured him for homeless and resolved to give him food when I got back out.
He was gone.
That night, I put an assortment of food in my car that could be eaten without a can opener or a pot of water or whatever. Just open and eat. For weeks, nobody gave me the chance to give the food away.
Then, one afternoon in call it October, I was getting gas and a woman who looked homeless walked up to me and asked if I had money.
I did not. (I did, but not for her.)
"But I have food," I offered as she walked past. I opened my trunk to reveal jelly, canned vegetables, canned pineapple, a box of crackers, oatmeal, a can of spaghetti and meatballs and canned chunky soup.
She surveyed the free food.
"Do you eat this stuff?" she asked me.
Why no, I didn't say, I bought these individual canned items in case I came upon a homeless person at a gas station.
"Sure do," I said, trying to help her understand I was not trying to drug and kidnap her.
"I guess I'll take the soup," she said, plucking it and going on her way.
When I related this story to some friends and relatives that day, they suggested that her decision-making skills were perhaps not optimal, given the situation. Maybe she was mentally ill or just didn't trust strangers with food in their car trunks.
One of those relatives put me in touch with a local food bank. I don't really like discussing how much I've donated because I don't want to seem like I'm bragging, but I know what I do well that can help people who are poor, so I don't give charities money. I give them product.
The problem is not just money. It's everything leading up to the part where the money isn't enough.
It's the undiagnosed, poorly treated and barely medicated mental illness that makes a person who is homeless unreliable.
It's the physical disability that insurance doesn't cover, leading to bills on top of bills, and finally the last person says no, and the person becomes homeless.
It's the socially promoted woman -- and she was my student when I was a tutor in college -- who can't add negative numbers yet somehow has to pay her dead husband's cancer bills. She was narrowly homeful.
Nobody wakes up one morning and goes oops, can't pay rent for some strange reason. The less money you have, the more you know how much you don't have. We never budgeted harder than when we were living on unemployment and half a salary.
It's preventive social care. Part of it was addressed by the Affordable Care Act. Part of it is being addressed by the VA, but good luck getting a claim there through within a year, and meanwhile, have fun paying for whatever.
Part of it is overwhelming the people who take underpaid positions because they want to help. They see a burning house -- a situation that requires intervention beyond their training and means -- and they can't do what they want to do, which is what we want to do, which is to right the situation.
Righting the situation, helping people who are homeless get back on their feet -- or as close as practical, because some people who are homeless can't care for themselves -- takes a lot of work. Advocacy, fundraising, donations, volunteering in shelters and coordinating relief efforts.
How you help is your decision. Play to your strengths. Play to your passion. People who are homeless come from piles of backgrounds, whether queer youth or single parents or elderly people or people with pets or veterans.
Phoenix has no homeless veterans, thanks in part to the stimulus:
Q: How did you address it?This is where this diary ends. Read that article. Forward it to your elected officials. Let's help every American who is homeless get warm, safe and a place of their own.
A: I know the stimulus program was much debated and criticized, but the ability to have housing was in part caused by the fact that HUD and the VA allowed for additional vouchers because of the stimulus -- housing vouchers that allowed cities like Phoenix to have the amount of housing necessary to get the veterans immediately into a housing situation.