I visited a Big Eastern City several times over the last week, which is and of itself not a big deal. As I walked down the street I saw something that brought home the real meaning of George Bush’s America to me. Homeless Americans by the score. Sleeping on sidewalks and subway grates for warmth on cold late-November/early-December nights. The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that approximately 3.5 million homeless Americans, 1.35 million of them children (kids, for fucks sake… what did they do to deserve it?). As the economy craters, those statistics are likely to not just increase, but increase exponentially with foreclosures and bailouts of financiers but not the financed. Indeed, new numbers are not available yet and hopefully by the time we know what the numbers for 2008 and 2009 are, perhaps a coherent public policy will be in place to provide a social safety net for the least fortunate among us… but I’m not holding my breath…
The homeless, and most vulnerable members of our country are left to fend for themselves as cuts in already-thin social-services programs get thinner. The military-industrial welfare state of the last eight years has literally taken the food from the mouths of Americans and roofs from over their heads as the Republicans gutted social programs (welfare queens, anyone?). Organizations are springing up behaving as 21st Century "Robin Hoods" placing homeless Americans in homes abandoned by families fleeing foreclosure as mortgages have exploded and the economy fails. Some fleeing homeowners are even paying homeless Americans to live in their abandoned properties as a security measure.
Additionally, buried somewhere in that already too-large number of homeless Americans is another number: an estimated 200,000 Americans who also happen to be veterans. Men and women literally left behind after serving our country, also victims of the military-industrial complex in a more acute way… used and now abused by everyone whose path they cross.
The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the nation’s homeless veterans are mostly males (4 % are females). The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities, 45% suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems. America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Forty-seven percent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era. More than 67% served our country for at least three years and 33% were stationed in a war zone.
Although accurate numbers are impossible to come by — no one keeps national records on homeless veterans — the VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country.
The greatest thing about our country has always been it’s commitment to the weakest members of our society, sometimes it took a bit of a push (not always in a good way) and sometimes it took real courage and political leadership to bring change about for the common good (They always hated FDR you know) but Americans have always tried to do the "right thing" when asked. Until the advent of George Bush and the "I’ve got mine America", a movement that began in Philadelphia, Mississippi with Ronald Reagan’s campaign speech and continued on with the takeover of American politics by Republicans whose mantra was "I’ve got mine". Now many folks have nothing… will the new administration make an effort to help them? I hope so. Expect the Republicans and Blue Dogs to fight any sort of social safety net on "fiscal" grounds, while pumping billions into wasted efforts in the War on Drugs, Terror, pork-barrel projects and their fave defense contractors.
It would be nice to believe that the woman in the picture might have a roof over her head someday, but I’m not holding my breath for it to happen in the current economic climate. I guess the best we can do is to not look away, and keep our words as progressives to remember those who have no voice, and to try and speak for them in the new administration.