The Mean Country

Ben Cohen
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TENT_CITY_06_V2 by D.Evans.Photography.

by David Glenn Cox

Last winter I wrote a story about the number of people who were dying
in house fires after having their utilities turned off. I began to do
some research on the growing numbers of tent cities springing up across
America. How, I wondered, will these people deal with the coming months
of winter cold?

But, as I find is so often the case, I start
off on one story and end up doing another. Officially there are over
fourteen million unemployed in America. That is the official number
that the politicians will own up to; in actuality the number could be
as high as twenty million.

I have been unemployed myself for
well over a year. I have twenty years of management experience, and I
have a great track record with a proven record for results. However, I
am over fifty years old and to prospective employers that is the kiss
of death. They perceive you as about to keel over from a heart attack
at any moment.

There are very few jobs to be had; the department
of labor reports six people looking for every one job available.
Because of the economy I became homeless and now live in a garage. I am
not an alcoholic, and I’m not hooked on drugs. I’m just unemployed.

as I began to research the tent cities across the country, what
surprised me, although it really shouldn’t have, was the attitudes of
my countrymen towards their fellow homeless Americans.

years ago I read a book about a woman who was a holocaust survivor. She
described how she would drag out the dead bodies from the barracks in
the morning so that she could have the corpse's clothing. She could
then trade the clothing for extra food or necessities. She said
something that has always stuck with me. “Many people gave up on life
because this was a world where it was very easy to give up on life.
When you gave up then you just died.”

When you are homeless it
is very easy to give up on life. Every activity is an uphill struggle,
cooking food, doing laundry, looking for work, etc. The industry in
which I worked has virtually ceased to exist. Many unemployed workers
were employed in industries that have now ceased to exist. Their jobs
and careers are gone, and yet the public sneers, “Get a job.” They also
offer up the following helpful solutions, direct quotes all.

others have said..does it really help the homeless by providing them
with a free home? I bet not. There are other solutions. I notice that
when I give things to my children it does not tend to make them more
responsible.. Just the opposite.”

“I don’t know the actual
number, but what, isn’t it like 70-80 percent of all homeless people
have drug/addiction problems? Even if it’s less how is tent city doing
anything but enabling this problem? I know this is more about tent
cities in general but honestly giving someone a free place to live
along with free meals is not really motivating them to change.”

poverty pimps will not allow the homeless to be housed without 24/7
babysitting. Without the babysitting the homeless could move on with
their live and thrive; NO MONEY IN THAT FOR THE POVERTY PIMPS!”

Homeless people are not children. For the most part they want the same things that any other citizen of this country wants.

my two decades in management I have had to deal with employees with
both drug and mental problems. Mental problems are sometimes masked by
drug problems; just stopping the drugs does nothing to solve the
emotional issues. It is not uncommon for a widower or a divorcee to
struggle with depression and to then medicate themselves with drugs or
alcohol. Why should it be so difficult to understand that a person who
has lost everything they’ve owned and worked for to use the same

Many of these people have lost husbands, wives, and
children. Why is it so hard to understand their pain? These people are
not made of wood or stone; they are breakable. “Many people gave up on
life because this was a world where it was very easy to give up on

“You don't have to go beyond the first page of a
Google search for "homelessness and criminal behavior" to find several
links to studies, which find much higher rates of drug use, crime, and
mental illness among the chronically homeless. It's sad, but some
people are truly beyond saving.”

“I understand unemployment is
up and some people have lost homes and need a hand to get back on their
feet. These tent city's are not for these people. History shows that
this is just a party camp for the homeless. Help the people who want to
help themselves not the ones who just want a hand out to support their
criminal activity.”

What is truly sad is how these people tend
to view crime. They worry about the homeless man who might steal their
purse but don’t give a thought to the corporate executives who might
steal their pension. They want all drug abusers locked away in prison
because they are beyond saving. Then they listen to and watch talk show
hosts with long and chronic histories of drug abuse and bob their
heads, agreeing in unison.

“If I lost my job and house, I would
literally have 10 options as to where to stay til I got back on my
feet. I understand I am lucky for having a good support system. But how
does someone get to the point where there is not even a couch or
friends garage they can crash in? the only answer I can come up with is
Drugs. You guys can paint these people as business men down on their
luck all you want, an it might be the case for a very tiny minority of
them, but last I checked McDonald’s is still hiring.”

ten million homes have been foreclosed on in the last three years. That
means forty million Americans have been dispossessed. That number does
not include renters who have also been evicted. So maybe these people
are living with relatives but maybe the relatives also enforced
conditions. “You can stay but that good for nothing husband or lazy,
fat-ass wife can’t!” Take your choice, live with mom and dad by
yourself? Or live in the street with your spouse? If children are
involved what real choice is there?

As I peruse the want ads
each day, I see many jobs that literally don’t pay enough money to keep
the lights on. I had written about the job offered by the storage
facility. Be available 24/7 to do sales, bookkeeping, maintenance and
janitorial work at any facility in Atlanta. $300 per week, no mileage,
no gas money, no benefits, no promise of steady work. I read an ad
yesterday to rewrite 400-word articles for five dollars each. I thought
to myself that at ten or twelve thousand words a day I could make a
decent living. McDonalds and many large corporations take applications
to keep a current stock of applicants on hand, but it doesn’t mean that
they are hiring.

When Chrysler went through its recent
bankruptcy I read about thousands in Chrysler management who had been
permanently laid off. Most had worked their entire adult lives in the
automobile industry, and I thought, "Where will these people find new
jobs?" The problem is not drugs or alcoholism or even homelessness; the
problem is jobs. Strange, isn’t it, that when America had a strong
manufacturing base and a strong job market that we had few so-called
defective people.

I live in the South and there are a great many
literal Biblical believers who take the Bible at face value. I’ve
always tended to view it in the same way as the Old Testament was
written, in the form of parables. The stories are told in a way to make
us see ourselves in them. Why else would they dwell on Christ’s long
walk to Calvary? Dragging his cross, an innocent man convicted by
society. As the onlookers heckle and throw things at him, mocking his
burden, only one of the multitude stopped to offer him any kindness or

As Lenny Bruce said, “If Jesus had been killed
twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little
electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.” This is a mean
country that calls the victims criminals and the criminals innocents.
So I’ve stopped worrying about the coldness of winter, as it will never
blow colder than an American’s heart.

(photo by D.Evans.Photography)