The Politics of Homelessness

Clerical Help

The New York Times, sect. A, p. 29 (December 16, 1993).

More than a decade after our fellow citizens began bedding down on the sidewalks, their problems continue to seem so intractable that we have begun to do psychologically what government has been incapable of doing programmatically. We bring the numbers down–not by solving the problem, but by deciding it’s their own damn fault.

‘Mr. O’Really’ Gibson Flack, ‘Two Lunches’ Leroy Johnson, ‘Chicken Bone’ Charlie Brody and Admiral Nano sat at McDonalds on Locust Street in Aurora, IL. It was a hot afternoon and though they had come in separately, they had taken tables near each other. In fact each had a whole table to himself, four people taking four tables. The staff at McDonalds’ hated the homeless for many reasons and this was one of them. In fact, the staff at this particular McDonalds’ in Aurora, IL. hated the homeless so much they not only discriminated against them, but essentially penalized them for being worthless customers. But such a thought was for another time as Admiral Nano listened to the current conversation between Mr. O’Really, Two Lunches and Chicken Bone.

Two Lunches, a Chicago native fleeing from gangs on the south side said, “Yo dog, I can’t believe da government can’t solve all da homeless pro’lem. We hab da homeless all my life and dey ain’t been nothing dat helped. Po people getz da Link Card, disability, social security if we work a bit, free med’cine, child support, food lines, but we’s still got da homelessness.”

“Yeah man”, said Chicken Bone, a southerner from Georgia who usually wore suspenders and had moved to the Chicago suburbs. “It’s like they blaming us nowadays for being homeless. The homeless didn’t create homelessness. We’re victims. I used to have a home, but I lost my job when Tyson Foods moved. I can’t be following those folks around the country with my family. My wife worked at the Walmart, but she didn’t make enough for the whole family. I left my family to look for work here around Chicago. I had a friend up here said he’d give me a job at a warehouse as supervisor. It didn’t happen. I’m too broke to get back to home. Besides, it’s embarrassing heading home with no money. At least my family is with my wife’s parents, so they got a place and food to eat. My wife don’t need to homeless man. I can’t be living with her parents.”

“Oh really”, said Mr. O’Really. “You left your wife and kids and can’t get back. If it was me I’d start walking. You’re wife is raising your kids and your not doing your part. Really? Really? You just sitting up here for months blaming the government for your problems. I haven’t seen you looking for a job, You’re always bumming squares and chasing women, when you’re not drinking. I don’t even think you got a family. The reason your homeless is because your a lazy, worthless bum.”

“That ain’t so” Chicken Bone said, who’d gotten his name by dropping chicken bones along the way as he walked from the homeless shelter in Aurora to his various destinations, like the local watering hole. “I got six children and if I can’t send home money cause the government can’t give me a job, then me being home isn’t going to change things, only make them worse.”

“Oh really? Really?” O’Really said. “Being there as a father looking for a job, doing anything to help your wife is not as good as sitting up here all day smoking? Really? Really? Are you retarded? I think you’re retarded. Really! You are retarded. You have to be retarded to think like that. Only a retard thinks like that. REALLY!”

“Shit”, said Two Lunches, who usually took as many lunches as he could before he got caught. He didn’t care if someone else didn’t get a sack lunch for the day with a crummy sandwich in it. He was out for himself and to hell with everyone else. Which pretty much explained the nature of his problems and what had even gotten him in trouble with his own homies. Now he was hiding out in Aurora hoping they wouldn’t drive out here and finish him off, or one of the many rival gangs of his old neighborhood. Two Lunches was a hood and never did anything good for anyone else.

“I gots family”, admitted Two Lunches. “I ain’t seen my kids since I went to prison. Black folk know how to use da system to get what dey want. If we wants a car, we takes a car. If we need money, we robs someone. Politicians wants our vote, we expect them to gib us stuff. The government creates poverty man. They makes money at it.”

“Oh really?” Mr. O’Really said. “How they making money when it cost them billions in programs to deal with it? Really? How are they making money dumb ass?” O’Really crossed his arms and stared at Two Lunches as if he wouldn’t be able to answer.

“Cause da tax payers are footing da bill man”, Two Lunches said. “Da government takes dat money and dole it back out ta white folk who help da homeless. Government hands it to charities, businesses, churches, you names it. Der lots of people making money from homelessness. See dis link card?” Two Lunches ask as he waved his Illinois link card in front of Mr. O’Really and Chicken Bone.

“Dey knows we cheat da system with dis. Dey ain’t dumb. So why you think da never come get us and jail us? Cause we spend using this card. It don’t make no mind who is spending who’s money on this plastic. If I spends it on myself like I’s supposed too or sales it to someone else to use, either way, da grocer man gets da money. His business sales more. He can pay his taxes to the city, state and country. Den government gets da money, hands some of it back to those helping the poor while claiming dey be making a diff’rence when no real diff’rence actually happening. It’s all a circle of lies and deceit. Dey all just lying and with hands in each others pockets. Da only one left out in the cold and get’n screwed is the homeless.”

“Yeah” Chicken Bone said while scratching his chin stubble. “I can see your reasoning. The staff at the shelter applies and gets all sorts of grant money from the state and feds I’m sure. They prolly use it to pay salaries and cover some expenses. Ain’t no way all these church folks coming over here can afford the money it takes to run this lousy place all by themselves. It’s all churches can do just to get a few folk here and bring us food worth eating. Even so there are times there ain’t no volunteers and the food is terrible.”

Two Lunches nodded and added, “Dats right. If da government didn’t gib da shelter lots of money, den all da staff would be jobless too. Where else a social worker gonna work if der be ­no homeless people to tell what to do? Who be paying for der salary? Not da chu’ches. It’s be gov’ment who den claim dey handing out millions of dollars to ‘solve da homeless problem’. But it not being solved, just treated. Da money run in circles, but da homeless ain’t getting helped and all da time, da be mo’ and mo’ homeless. Bankers, politicians, lawyers and all gettin richer and richer. The country gets mo’ broke and mo’ poor and homeless.”

Up spoke Mr. O’Really again to Two Lunches. “So, Mr. Smarty Pants. How would you solve homelessness? Tell me that. Seriously, tell me that. I bet you can’t tell me. You know why? You’re a dumb asshole. Really! You’re a dumb asshole.”

“You are one dumb cracker man”, said Two Lunches. “All this stuff we get, like tooth paste, why are companies gibin it to da homeless. Not cause dey can’t sell it. If dere was something wrong with da toothpaste, dey’d have it back. Dere be reasons dey be gibin it to us man. You can’t solve homelessness when it makes millions for people who are greedy or want to feel good about themselves in a competitive, capi’listic society. It’s parta da system. You could only get rid of it by getting rid of da system. I ain’t got a better system either.”

Chicken Bone threw away the toothpick he’d been chewing on and nodded. He looked over at Mr. O’Really. “You been here nearly forever man. Like ten years or more. How come this ghetto man got to be telling you this stuff? You been jobless, homeless and sucking the government tit a long time. Why don’t you get a job and get out of this hell hole?”

“Oh really? Really? Seriously. Are you serious? You must be serious. Do I look like someone who’s gonna get a job. I’m a sot with emotional problems and no good education and work ethics. I’m going to live here till I get old, rot and die. I want the government to take care of me. I like the government taking care of me. I want them to do more for me. You got to be retarded to think I want to work or take care of myself. I want others to take care of me and do it without making me feel guilty. Seriously? Really? You must be even more retarded than me.”

Admiral Nano sat and listened, but the conversation was suddenly brought to a stop by a lady manager at the worlds’ worst McDonalds in Aurora, IL. The little Hispanic girl said in broken English at this restaurant where except for a couple employees, only Hispanics were hired, “I’m sorry, but we’ve been getting complaints about you guys talking. You need to leave now. Besides, you’ve been here to long. You’re over the thirty minute limit. Leave now!”

“Whoa dere”, said Two Lunches. “I’b been here only twenty minute and I ain’t finished da cup of coffee I ordered yet. Besides, you gots the restroom door locked and I need to use it.”

The female manager looked bored and cared less, her professionalism nonexistent. “We lock the door to keep homeless people like you guys out so they aren’t drinking or doing drugs in there. But it’s too late now for you anyway. You need to leave.”

“Who are these people complaining?” said Chicken Bone, since the restaurant was nearly empty and the only ones in it were a few more homeless, all eating or drinking something. “I haven’t seen anyone come up the your counter and complain. What did they look like?”

The manager was getting miffed now. “It don’t matter who they were. I said you got to go and if you don’t go now, I”m calling the police.”

Admiral Nano remembered some of the recent things he’d been studying about ‘criminalizing homelessness’ with a variety of laws aimed at reducing their presence in various ways from various places people didn’t want them to be. It was like a social disease or being a leper in the Dark Ages. He got up and started to put his coat on. It was very cold outside and it mattered not to this inconsiderate, immigrant, minimum-wage manager how she treated the poor or what image McDonalds wanted to portray in commercials. McDonalds would have you believe it was an All-American, family friendly place for everyone to come, but in reality, the franchises were owned and run according to whatever standards the owners wanted to have for their business. As long as McDonalds got their franchise fees and royalties they were happy. They weren’t going to question any franchise’s behavior policies. Again, that was another story yet to come.

Nano made his way outside and in a few more moments Chicken Bone, Two Lunches and Mr. O’Really joined him in the windy, subzero cold. Even a non-homeless customer was ordered to leave having been there thirty minutes nearly. Through the window glass he could be seen yelling at the manager while retrieving his winter coat, gloves, scarves, and all. Now there were no customers inside the restaurant, but there were still homeless people holding their McDonalds coffee cups steaming in the frigid outside. It is hard to become ex-homeless when nobody wants to treat you respectfully and makes stereotypes out of you. Homelessness was definitely an unfair discrimination brought on by the ills of a given society and what they valued. In this case, it was a human love of greed and self-centeredness combined with selective blindness. As long there was money to be made from homelessness and political posturing to produce vain images there was no chance it would be seriously prevented.

The foursome moved off, headed somewhere to be warm. The customer got into his new car and drove off giving the watching manager an obscene gesture.

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About Admiral Nano

A man exploring homelessness in Aurora.
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