Back in the 80’s, ex-Genesis member Phil Collins wrote and recorded hit song after hit song. One song that he recorded dealt with a very real, but prior to that, untouched topic and cultural issue in popular music—homelessness. The song tells the story of a bag lady and a passerby that he observes in a city. The chorus goes something like this:
“Oh, think twice, for it’s another day for you, for you and me in paradise;” something to that effect.
Collins puts a human face and feelings to homelessness. He implies—I think—that homelessness is everyone’s issue, and that we personally need to do something about it, because if we did, not only would it have a tremendous impact on the problem, but we might be changed, as well.
In one of my earlier posts on this blog, I mentioned the Arizona Canal system, and how nice it is to walk along the banks of the canal early in the morning to get some exercise, fresh air, and time alone with my thoughts and intercessory prayers.
One October Saturday morning I came across one of my new neighbors in Phoenix I hadn’t met before. Even though it was late morning, probably after 10:00, this neighbor was still asleep on the ground amidst a large, dirty comforter that covered him completely. A shopping cart sat nearby that held his other belongings—stuff that looked like trash to me. His shoes sat nearby, and his socks were carefully tucked in the open tops, yet hanging out somewhat to air out. I walked on by, not knowing what to do, feeling powerless and thinking about the priest in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Over the next few weeks I continued to see the same comforter and shopping cart, but in different places: once, amid some trees and benches near the canal bridge in a little park by the walking and horseback underpass; another time in a culvert between the paved path and the gravel path along the edge of the canal; I always saw him somewhere along the canal. It must offer some safety and relative freedom from harassment by law enforcement—though, to be honest, I have no idea how the police feel about the presence of homeless persons in north central Phoenix.
I have seen other “shopping cart people,” as well. Usually, one can see them in and around the parking lot of the shopping center where I go to rent videos and take my dry cleaning. Actually, there’s a couple who are shopping cart people, a man and a woman. They have a shopping cart filled to overflowing with plastic bags, broken down cardboard boxes and what seems like dozen of empty plastic gallon milk jugs tied to this rolling pile of plastic and personal treasure. Perhaps they are just really vigilant recyclers, but I have seen them early in the morning and late at night rolling the cart down streets and sidewalks, at hours of the day that most people are just waking up or going to bed. I think I’ve seen sleeping bags rolled up on their cart, but can’t specifically remember. Phoenix has very nice weather; it’s not too cold at night or in the morning—yet. Over the past week or so it has been getting cooler in the morning. It will get cold at night here; the desert climate can get very cold when the sun goes down.
I found that seeing homeless people in the part of Phoenix in which I presently live is a real awakening that not everything is perfect here (or elsewhere), even in communities where as much blight and the blighted are engineered or designed out as possible. Things are tough right now in the country, no matter where you live. I read on BBC’s news blog last week (can’t find a link—sorry!) that over the past seven years, real wages for the top five percent of wage earners in the U.S. have gone up a little over 50%, whereas real wages for the bottom five percent of wage earners have actually fallen over three percent the past seven years (clearly meant to mark the era of the GW Bush presidency). If that’s true, that isn’t right.
Forty-five percent of the world’s population lives on less than $1 per day; over half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. The average US citizen lives on $78 a day, taking in the costs of education, housing, food, insurance, clothing, transportation.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) ask of us to contribute .07% of our income to eradicate extreme poverty in this world, among seven other worthy goals, such as reducing child mortality, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women and other far reaching like-minded goals for the better of our neighbors on this planet. That’s less than one penny per dollar of income; we North Americans spend more money on gourmet coffee in six months than it would cost us to contribute to the MDG’s. I spend more on books, and it causes me to pause now before buying books with one-click shopping. Do I really need another book, or could someone use food, fresh water, pre-natal vitamins, or a basic education more?
I haven’t figured out what to do about the homeless guy who sleeps along the canals in Phoenix, but I can help others like him by contributing to an organization dedicated to funding the MGD’s, such the Episcopal Relief and Development fund. And while I know that in some way I am doing my part, I also know that I still need to meet Jesus face to face in the homeless here in Phoenix, because Jesus in that person has something to teach me.