Writing is hard. Among all the things I attempt to do well, with varying degrees of success, I find writing to be the most challenging. I really admire people who do it well, consistently and with passion.
Becky Blanton is one of those people. She was also a homeless person. Still is by definition of the Federal Government. Becky Blanton, through her writing and her lifestyle choices, raises some interesting questions about how we “see” people. Literally.
I discovered Blanton’s story at TED, a non-profit organization that brings together great minds from the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design and challenges them to deliver the “talk of their lives”. The results are funny, shocking, tragic, revealing, entertaining and always inspirational. Blanton’s talk is about the year she spent living out of her van with the Rottweiler and her cat. What began as a great American road trip adventure ended in frustration, homelessness and depression. As Blanton states in her talk, she was amazed at how quickly she went from being a talented, hard working journalist to an invisible woman.
What I found especially compelling about Blanton’s experience was her assertion that society equates living in a permanent structure with having value as a person. Think about it. Someone living in a rundown little house on the edge of town is, by American standards, “better off” than someone living in clean, well maintained vehicle. My boyfriend’s parents love to regale us with stories of a couple they know who decided to live in their RV and travel the country. Breakdowns in the desert and noxious plumbing problems play out like another painful installment of National Lampoon’s “Vacation”. But at least for them it’s a lifestyle choice.
Recent unemployment statistics and housing foreclosures, however, are no laughing matter. The number of homeless in New York has risen 45% since 2002. Apparently one of Mayor Bloomberg’s solutions is to charge the working homeless who live in public shelters rent. In one case, a single mother making $8.40 an hour as a cashier at Sbarro was charged $360 in rent for her space at the shelter. Here’s what sticks out for me…
1) How the hell do businesses get away with paying someone $8.40 an hour? Oh, well it is above the Federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. (Meanwhile members of Congress has awarded themselves 31,600 in pay raises over the last nine years.) In fact, 44% of Congress are millionaires.
2) How is this woman supposed to get herself out of the shelter and into a home of her own? I have no idea how anyone survives in New York on less than 60,000 a year.
3) Bloomberg just spent 100 million of his own money in his mayoral campaign. So, basically a multi-billionaire has decided it makes good sense to charge a homeless woman rent for her shelter. Mighty white of you, Mr. Bloomberg.
In a country as wealthy and resourceful as ours, there shouldn’t be any “working homeless”. We can do better than this. We can change this. Change starts with fresh perspective and Becky Blanton has some great ideas on how to change yours…check out her blog and maybe even find a place to feed the homeless (some of who may be working) this Thanksgiving.