Over the past few weeks I’ve heard or read articles about people who were living in a manner deemed sub-par, substandard, or not normal. Somehow these people were considered to be newsworthy. Two particular cases stand out in my mind.
The first case that stands out is a local man who was labeled “homeless”. This homeless man lives in a tent made from layer upon layer of tarpaulin and canvas. It was built on pallets so he is off the ground. He has a heater and a cook stove. When he learned that he had a child, he started paying child support, but he doesn’t earn enough to pay child support and rent. So he put his child’s needs before his and moved into his tent. He is not squatting, he lives on private property but the property owner knows he is there. He has a job and according to his employer, is a model employee – always on time, clean, polite, etc.
The second scenario that stands out, in my mind, is a man in the Detroit area who walks to work each day because his car stopped running in 2005 and he couldn’t then, and can’t now, afford another car. He doesn’t want to, and can’t afford to move because his house is paid for and he can’t afford rent/mortgage. His commute takes over 2 hours, and includes a bus, but he walks about 21 miles round trip on foot – 5 days a week. It was also noted that he is a great employee and has never been late. He mentioned, in the article I read, that he’s thankful for the job and that he’s pretty sure he’s not the only one in a situation like his.
What caught my attention in both of these stories is that after the stories were made public, students and young adults started campaigns to raise funds for the men – to help them out of their situation by raising funds for housing or a car. I think it’s great that young people were moved to fix the situations, but why did it take making these stories public and students doing social projects to fix the situations?
While the stories were designed to be uplifting, all they did for me was raise more questions. In my mind, these stories opened up a large socioeconomic can of worms. Both of these men were in these situations for a long time. Neither situation was caused by recent developments. Neither man is alone in their plight, as they are employed, which means they have coworkers and employers, and people with whom they have daily contact. So why did it take so long for people, many of them strangers, to help them? Why do they have incomes but are still unable to meet their own basic needs and how did the situations go unnoticed for so long? Why is the local man still legally responsible for child support if he can be classified as homeless? The Detroit man takes the bus only part of the way to his job. Why doesn’t public transportation cover his entire commute and why is it so expensive to own a car in Detroit? What local services could have helped them and why didn’t they contact them? Did they not qualify?
My list of questions just runs on and on. I understand that some of my questions are easily answered, I even know the answers to a few of them. But some of the answers just lead to more questions.
I’m not trying to fault anyone in these scenarios, not the men in the stories, not the employers, not even those who know these men or have tried to help in the past. I’m also not discrediting the current efforts to raise funds and change the situation. What I am trying to do is find a way for me to understand what makes these particular stories newsworthy. Because the larger, underlying issues of living wages, mass transit an alternative transportation needs, child support and welfare reform, homelessness, and class disparity are easily overshadowed by the supposed happy endings these stories highlight.
I like happy endings, and I wish both of these men the happy endings the stories implied. But most importantly, I hope that as a society we can somehow learn to address the larger issues that are hiding in plain sight, just behind the happy endings.
To read about the local man living in the tent, and the efforts to help him, click here.
To read about the Detroit man and his commute, click here.