Friday, October 30, 2009

"Begging" online-- what's left after more homeless cuts?

Driving through the South End yesterday,  I noticed that the can recycling center on Main St. is closed.  How far away do people with shopping carts have to go now to redeem their bottles?  It's funny that no matter how poor the average person may feel, he doesn't feel poor enough to keep from tossing that can in the trash.  So literally, one man's trash becomes another man's treasure.

Earlier this week the Boston Globe's David Abel wrote an article on the phenomenon of "online begging," where homeless people-- and others--  ask for donations.  There are definitely some advantages for the potential giver-- you do it on your own time, not under the pressure of a personal "ask" on the street, and if the person doing the asking actually has a blog, you get a chance to know a little about a person before you decide.  I've given a little bit this way-- not a lot, but probably  a larger amount than if I were digging in my pocket for spare change.  Of course, you can still be scammed.

So let's talk about scammers a little bit.

There are scammers like the guy who approached me in a parking lot last summer, begging for four bucks to take a bus back to Greenfield for a job interview.  I happened to stop at the same store the next day and he was still there, begging for another four bucks for the very same reason!  (I had a few choice comments.)  Then there are scammers who steal your identity and run up your bills-- truly among the evil, if you ask me.
Some get caught, most don't, but what they do is against the law.

But to be a really big scammer, you have to work on Wall St.  There, you can be the giant puppermaster and juggler.  You can play with derivatives, which are harder to understand than the Standard Model of quantum physics and which are tied to nothing of tangible value at all, and if you start dropping your balls, then 300 million people become your victims-- and that's just in this country.  We lose our jobs, we lose our homes and retirement savings, or, if we have none of these things in the first place, we lose those few social services and subsidies that help us survive and maybe offer a bit of hope for the future.

Of course when we have less income, there's less tax revenue, and then mayors and governors like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick start making budget cuts.  Every one of the cuts that Patrick is making are going to hurt real people.  One thousand people who had a job today with the Commonwealth won't have that job tomorrow. I know the prescription drug program for low-income seniors has been cut once again.  You name it, the cuts are there.

But the cuts that really get me are the disproportional share of cutt to homeless shelter and services.

Thanks to the recession, the number of homeless families in Massachusetts has doubled in one year to more than 3,000.  Every shelter for single people is full and  the Governor is cutting $2.9 million from the $36.6 million Homeless Individual Assistance Account, Line 7004-0102, putting 500 shelter beds across the state in jeopardy.  Cities and towns take one step forward in their plans to get homeless people off the streets and out of the shelters, and then are forced to take two steps back.

The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless is assessing these cuts right now and will be public soon with action steps.  Meanwhile, if you're a still-housed regular person, I hope you think twice about repeating the "Get a job" mantra when you start to sense there are more homeless people ion the street than last year.  Just be glad it's not you, and if you can spare any change, don't stop yourself.

1 comment:

peacesojourner said...

Hi Michaelann,
I just wrote a long comment and then I lost it - don't know what happened. Anyway I was saying that you make some good comments in this blog and I agree with you.Especially about the fat cats.

Here is my take on giving to people on the streets who ask for money. If I have some money on me I always give. Sometimes I have doubts about what they have just told me but I have come to believe that giving should be unconditional so I don't worry if what they tell me is true or not. Sometimes I don't have a penny on me and just tell them so. However, my unconditional giving does not apply if I am asked to help pay for a pack of cigarettes. (don't want to contribute to helping them kill themselves).
Bottom line - it is no fun trying to exist on the streets and I think people should have compassion for that.
During the past winter a man froze to death while sleeping in a doorway just one street over from me.
There but for the grace of God go we.