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Another Day In Paradise MAG
"She calls out to the man on the street. "Sir, can you help me? It's cold and I've nowhere to sleep. Is there somewhere you can tell me?' He walks on, doesn't look back. He pretends he can't hear her. . ." In the song Another Day in Paradise, Phil Collins describes a typical scene that everyone, undoubtedly, has encountered at one time or another; it is the sorry sight of a homeless person reaching out for help, or a sleeping figure stretched out on the rat-infested subway floor. Moreover, it is a person like you and me who has somehow been reduced to a life of hunger and penury, becoming a distasteful, vulgar sight for those passing by.
There are between 350,000 and 3 million homeless people living in the United States, the land of opportunity. Clearly, this figure is rather broad, perhaps because of the difficulty in finding all those people hiding on the streets, or perhaps the country has not made a substantial effort to learn about the nation's problem.
Is it the nation's problem? How did these people manage to lose everything? We've succeeded; why couldn't they? The majority of us, the middle-to-upper class, blame homelessness on alcohol and drug abuse. But, in fact, only 44% of this nation's homeless are substance abusers. Indeed, drugs and alcohol can completely destroy a person both mentally and physically. Once addicted, the substance takes priority over life's responsibilities. Jobs, friends, family and one's own health are placed on the back burner as these habits take top priority. Soon enough, this can lead to destitution by spending all of one's money on supporting the habit, rather than survival. The next step down is living (or attempting to live) on the streets.
There are cases in which substance abusers are "thrown out" of their homes, leaving families behind and forcing them to live on their own. This affects all ages from teenagers through the elderly. Poverty is widespread and does not discriminate.
But substance abuse is not the only cause of homelessness. The sudden loss of a job can eventually lead to a life on the streets, perhaps for the whole family. Living in Massachusetts, especially today, has become extremely difficult to afford. Living in a home requires a continuous flow of money and without it, it is unrealistic to expect to live in a house or even an apartment.
Why can't an unemployed person pick him or herself up and find a new job? Although we'd like to believe that people are self-motivated and perhaps willing to accept a lower-level job than the previous one, in reality the drop in status can tear a person apart emotionally. The rejection from a job can make a person feel useless and depressed. In the meantime, bills stack up. Soon one's home must be forfeited.
Without a permanent residence, it is practically impossible to get a job. Living on the streets can make it difficult to maintain a clean, respectable appearance, thus making it difficult to get hired. In Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell states the fact that without an alarm clock, it's impossible to get to work on time. Without the money, one cannot get a job. Without the job, one cannot have money. It's a Catch-22 situation.
One of the greatest causes of homelessness is the gentrification of neighborhoods. Mayor Flynn stated in last year's State of the City Address that a new campaign, called the "1,000 Rooms," was created to help replace the rooms lost to gentrification over the last twenty years. Rents are rising and buildings are being transformed and becoming the exclusive property of the privileged.
Is it the government's fault? What have they done to prevent housing problems? It's only natural that neighborhood residents want to upgrade their living conditions, but there should be a limit. It is necessary to prevent all the low-income houses from "going condo." If not, families will continue to be forced to live on the streets. While the government may not be doing enough, there are churches, synagogues and other organizations doing their part in aiding the less fortunate. We have organizations such as the Salvation Army and shelters in which the homeless can seek refuge for the night. Travelling from shelter to shelter will not cure the homeless people's situation. They should not become dependent on shelters, or else they will not attempt to get back on their feet. But, because they may only stay in one shelter for one night, they are forced to keep moving.
So, what can we do? George Orwell's plan was to create workhouses in which homeless people can live for as long as they desire, provided they work for the food. In the past such workhouses have been attempted, but obviously they have not solved the problem. Perhaps the government did not fund these projects sufficiently, or perhaps the homeless themselves were unable to make a commitment. The answer is difficult to determine, but without attempting to solve the problem, we will never find a solution.
Government funds, volunteers, and a plan need to be combined in order to put the homeless into homes and provide them with jobs: the key to our solution. Jobs will bring back a person's self-respect and dignity.
Although I don't have a concrete solution, I do know the statistics are horrifying. The fact that mentally disturbed patients are released from institutions before being "cured," both frightens and saddens me.The fact that our government is not helping enough disgusts me.
As Phil Collin's song says, "It's another day for you and me in paradise." But for those homeless people, it is another day in hell. We must all face the fact that there are thousands, perhaps millions, who suffer each day because they have no money, no job and a lack of respect from those passing them by. We cannot ignore the problem, rather just the opposite. We are the only ones who can make a difference in the lives of the homeless. We must volunteer our services and ideas, for without giving it a try, there will never be a solution. n