Home > Uncategorized > 600,000 Souls or More

600,000 Souls or More

As I was out and about today, I had occasion, mirabile dictu, to stop at a red light. Now anyone who knows anything about Florida drivers knows that this, in itself, is a small wonder. Between the failure to proceed on a green light, and the failure to stop on a red, Miami drivers treat traffic control devices as mere recommendations.  But what struck me about this particular red light was the number of panhandlers. One at each line of cars, four for the intersection.

Each panhandler had a cardboard sign, describing his or her particular plight. “Lost my Job, hungry”, “disabled veteran, homeless”, or some permutation thereof. And it is not just that one intersection; hundreds of intersections are manned around the clock, with some being handled by shift workers.

Earlier in the week, I was walking on the Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, which is Miami’s answer to Rodeo Drive. Millions of dollars spent weekly, maybe even daily. But amid all the wealth and its ostentatiousness, I saw a man, homeless and ill, sleeping on a bench along the sidewalk.

I spoke to a city employee about the man. She told me that the police knew who he was, had tried to get him help, but he would refuse. He is homeless by choice, it seems, daily dying slowly in the presence of Rolex watches and Ferragamo shoes.

There are, by one count, about 4200 more or less permanent homeless in Miami-Dade County, predominantly in Miami proper. That out of a population of 2 and a half million. A statistically insignificant number, percentage-wise, perhaps, but a staggeringly large number in human terms.

New York City estimates a homeless population of 53,000 or so. Against a city of 8 million, again, statistically insignificant. But only a bureaucrat could look at the homeless as statistics.

On one day in January 2012, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported 633,000 homeless people across the US. That’s more than twice the number of US servicemen killed in World War II.

And we see them every day, the armies of busket-men and windshield washers, panhandlers and perennial downtrodden. We pass them by, maybe avert our eyes, and comfort ourselves that the government has programs. Notwithstanding the fact that the government is a likely cause and not a salvation.

There are many people working in the cities, feeding, clothing, and housing our own generation perdue, to borrow from Gertrude Stein. Not nearly enough that anyone of us should forget that it is our brother, our sister, our mother, father, and child who is cold, and hungry.

I will leave you with a story I heard at my father’s funeral. A very good friend of his told it to me. It seems that my father was an easy touch for panhandlers, and would always have something to give. While walking with my Dad, his friend saw him give a homeless guy his last dollar. Dad’s friend asked him what he was going to do for lunch, since he just gave away the last of his money. My Dad replied that he would do without, and offer it up as penance. His friend persisted, and asked him why he gave the homeless guy the money. My Dad replied, “What if he needs it more than I do?”

Maybe that’s an attitude we should think about developing.

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