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Win the Lottery, Get Millions of Dollars?  No, Just a Bed in a Homeless Shelter

Income Inequality Goes Up, And Now We Have the "Working Homeless"

January 8, 2002

How cruel it is that our super-rich society -- the most affluent the world has ever seen -- forces the homeless to participate in a humiliating "lottery" to determine who will have a bed for the night, and who will sleep out in the cold.  As if we couldn't just provide simple shelter for any human being who needs it to avoid freezing to death in the harsh winter weather.

In a Minneapolis church, there are only 9 beds and 61 homeless men.  I guess to make it pure chance, with no possibility of accusations of unfairness or favoritism, the director of the shelter plucks bingo chips from a red plastic bowl to select the lucky ones who will get a warm meal, a chance to shower and do a load of laundry, and a bed to rest in.

Actually, some of the other homeless men won't have to sleep on the street.  The shelter with the lottery is known as the "Cadillac of homeless shelters in the Twin Cities."  That's because it has food, a shower, a washing machine and a real bed.  Those who lose the lottery maybe can get in one of the other two shelters, which have thin mats on the floor to sleep on, and one of which -- a former morgue -- has no food, no showers and only a portable toilet.

Many readers immediately get what I'm saying, that no brother or sister human being should be treated like this in the United States.

However, other readers are already reaching to click the "Comments" page link, so they can tell me that if these lazy bums don't want to work, then the hell with them, let them freeze on the street.  STOP.  Before you go to the comments page to fire off your missive to me, please read just a little more.

Aren't many of these people on the street mentally ill?  Surely you have some sympathy for them?

And what of the rest?  Just getting what they deserve?

Not so.  A study found that 41 percent of homeless men and women in the Twin Cities in 2000 were employed.  That is up from 19 percent in 1991.

Yes, they are employed full time, but their jobs don't pay them enough to afford a roof to put over their heads

The Working Homeless

This situation violates a fundamental tenet of the "social contract," that if you work a full-time job, contributing to the functioning of society, you will be rewarded with enough funds to at least minimally survive.

Please also consider: the number of people in homeless shelters in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and its suburbs, rose steadily from about 600 in 1986 to over 3000 in the year 2000.  The number or working homeless more than doubled.  And the critical third piece of data: during that same time period, income inequality in this country dramatically increased, with the wealthy taking a greater and greater share of the income pie.

Do you get it?  The pie isn't big enough, apparently, to give the rich as much as they want, and provide a high enough income to those working at the bottom of the scale so they can afford housing.

A generation ago, even the most pitiful Bowery bum had a flophouse he could sleep in.  Homelessness in the United States was not a concept I even think existed back then.

Our collective national heart has become so hardened that we just accept the fact that there are millions of homeless among us.

That old saw "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" needs to be updated a bit.  The poor just don't get poorer any longer.  "The rich get richer and the poor get homeless" now seems more accurate.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on the Working Homeless

More on Economic Injustice

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