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On the Precipice of Homelessness and Hopelessness: A Para-Fable

The economy is taking one more victim and is devouring his income, home, and confidence. He’s on a precipice.

I call him a victim because his current situation is of no fault of his own. “Jack” has been part of the middle class for thirty years. He’s been industrious and hardworking since the of age twelve, when he delivered the evening newspaper on a route filled with semi-detached homes in a working-class neighborhood. Jack did anything to make and save money, from newspaper delivery to construction to washing windows. Sweat and calluses never deterred Jack from hard and honest work.

Jack had big dreams when he entered the workforce. He would be rich and share his wealth with those less fortunate or with those who were less able. Jack grew up in a time where the masses protested inequalities and injustices and believed that anything was possible. As Jack got older his altruism began to fade as he witnessed Pine Ridge, Kent State, Vietnam, Watergate, and the Iran hostage crisis. He began to look at life differently and believed that “wealth” should be shared, that equality means just that, equal for everyone. Jack went out of his way to demonstrate his beliefs and was kind, loving, and thoughtful in words and deeds. People liked Jack and Jack liked people.

Fast forward through career changes, relationships, deaths, and illness to the year 2007. Jack had lost a job that he really liked and was very good at. At this job, Jack helped a lot of people and they let him know just how much. Being industrious, Jack started his own business where he could do things his way with more freedom to help more people. The security which accompanied his former salaried job was gone including health care coverage and a steady paycheck but Jack took a deep breath and a leap of faith in himself. It was a good move, for Jack did well and even did some work for his former employer. Then the roof began to collapse.

While the United States and other wealthy nations were deciding what to call the financial crisis, Jack knew the world was about to change. Jack felt the impact of the financial crisis immediately. His business dropped faster than the jumping Wall Street brokers of 1929. But Jack had saved some money and hadn’t touched his 401k, so he and his wife would be okay for a while, at least until the global economy started to recover.

The situation went from bad to worse, not just for Jack but for hundreds of thousands of people. Jack’s savings quickly began to dwindle and he became anxious about the future. Even though Jack’s future was uncertain, he was aware that millions of people around the world were living in poverty, living without food or clean drinking water, so Jack was grateful and hopeful. But gratitude and hope won’t pay the rent, so Jack went looking for help. Beside searching for a job, any job, Jack applied for unemployment benefits but was rejected because he was a sole-proprietor. “Preposterous!” Jack exclaimed. “Now is when I really need the benefits.” But there was no convincing or persuading the people that make these rules, not the Director of Labor, nor the Governor. Desperate, Jack pleaded to his Mayor who responded by form of email.

Like many others, Jack wrote letters, telephoned elected officials asking for help and guidance, all to no avail. He went so far as to right to the President and received a reply. “We’re working on it.” Jack went to his State’s social service’s office looking for aid but was told that funds were not available to him. Why? Because, he had more than a thousand and two dollars in the bank. When Jack protested that was all the money he had and that he needed to rely on it to eat and pay the bills, he was promptly and directly informed that he needed to be at the poverty level in order to receive emergency funds. The thinking in Jack’s state is that one needs to be actually homeless or on the verge of homelessness to receive life sustaining funds. Jack’s moods turned darker. He couldn’t afford health insurance any longer or the medications he was taking. His doctor was a kind and empathic man and gave Jack enough samples to last six months.

With the roof caving in further, Jack’s frustration turned to anger, especially when he learned of the $50 billion dollar bank bailout plan. “The banks helped to create the mess we’re all in and now we’re going to bail them out? Where is the justice? Where is the fairness? Fine, give them the money but please help those of us who just need to get by.” Jack wrote more letters, made more phone calls and received the same basic reply, “We’re working on it.” And, “The situation is getting better. We’re creating more jobs.” But things weren’t getting better, not for Jack or for hundreds of his former colleagues who were being let go.

Now remember, Jack is honest and industrious. He wants to work and pay his own way, so Jack tried to get a vendor’s license from his city’s department of finance so that he could sell a product and service he was confident people would want and buy. Once again, Jack learned that bureaucracies can be myopic and the city said, “No” to his license request. “There is a waiting list and it’s closed.” Jack tried using his influencing skills to persuade the licensing official that his business would bring in much needed tax revenue and that one more citizen would be employed. “It’s a win-win.” Soon after leaving the city office empty handed he was told by a Falafel vendor that if he had fifty-thousand dollars he could get Jack a license and a street corner to hark his wares.

As of today, Jack is months behind on his mortgage payments and eviction is looming. Jack calculates that if his situation doesn’t turn around quickly, he and his wife will be on the street by the end of March. So, Jack started making a list of everything he must have if he landed at the homeless shelter: five days of clothing; medication (if any remained); laptop; birth certificate and passport. Jack cried after reviewing his list. Family photos, keepsakes, books, paintings, and journals would all have to go. Jack remembered the story of Siddhartha who left all his possessions in search of enlightenment. Jack started packing in order to lighten his load.

Everyday Jack and his wife pray. They pray not only for themselves but for everyone. Not just for those in despair but for those who helped to create the disparity. They pray even when they don’t believe. They pray that God, the Universe, the Whatever will provide help, guidance, direction.

Jack doesn’t want to be or feel like a victim. He wants want everyone wants: security, shelter, and love. He wants and hopes that the lessons learned from the financial crisis will help to forge a new global community of caring for each other, for equality, for mutual benefit for less fear and greed and more selflessness and giving. Jack is very close to the edge of the precipice and hopes that one last gust of wind will blow him back to firmer footing.