I was getting gas yesterday at Sam’s Club, and the pump next to mine malfunctioned. The attendant, a middle-aged man who needed to see a dentist, came by to fix it.
“Be careful to keep your windows closed when you leave Sam’s,” he said. “There are homeless people reaching in and grabbing stuff at the light there.”
He pointed at the exit.
“Right there, they’re just grabbing stuff.”
“Desperate people do desperate things,” I answered. “Thanks for the warning.”
He laughed and said desperation was what drove him to take this low-wage job, being outside in all kinds of weather, helping people who likely are annoyed at any delay in getting gas and eager to get on to more pleasant tasks. He probably takes a lot of verbal abuse.
“I’m thankful I have a place to live,” he said. “It isn’t much. It doesn’t have heat. But I stay dry.”
I told him I lived in a house in Massachusetts as a kid that had no central heat and no hot water. We had a woodstove. He told me his place is small enough to heat with a little electric heater. We chatted a few more minutes before the pumps got busy and I needed to move.
I thought about him being a bit judgy at first, as he told me to be careful of homeless people. But as soon as I said, “Desperate people do desperate things,” his face softened.
There but for the grace of God and all that.
Except God doesn’t cause people to be poor or homeless or sick with no access to health care. That comes from public policies that impoverish people, like an insufficient minimum wage, allowing corporate landlords to overcharge for crappy housing — hell, allowing corporations to own a quarter of all housing units in the first place — allowing health care providers to let people die rather than care for them, allowing insurance and pharmaceutical companies to make obscene profits while poor people suffer and die.
It isn’t the grace of God that allows any of us to fare better than others, it’s privilege, luck, and greed. God isn’t all about making people go hungry because you won’t agree that everyone deserves a basic level of income, one that covers needs. And by needs, I mean food, clothing, shelter, transportation, health care and maybe a couple of bucks extra to take the kids for ice cream once in awhile.
When Republicans (they’re the only ones who’ve ever done this) aske me whether my late son was working when he got sick, that’s inappropriate and cruel. What you’re doing when you ask that is telling me my son probably didn’t deserve to live.
When you ask someone living in poverty why they don’t get a better job, that, too, is inappropriate and cruel. Do you think they hadn’t thought of that? Do you have any understanding of the barriers people living in poverty face? Most poor and low-wage people can’t afford a car, and most places have crappy public transportation (another policy failure). People in low-wage jobs usually have to have two or more jobs to hold body and soul together. That leaves little time for family, and no time for a proper job search or for training for a better job.
My gas pump attendant friend considers his job a desperate measure. Living on starvation wages leaves one in a desperate place, and if he were to lose that job, he likely would have to join the ranks of the homeless.
Before you condemn poor people, you might want to think about how your votes affect these lives. I mean, voting for people who will change these cruel policies is the very least you can do. Seriously, it is the very least you can do.
If you want to do more, you can join the ranks of people who are fighting against poverty, not the poor.
#PoorPeoplesCampaign #UniteThePoor #FightPovertyNotThePoor