(Page 2 of 3)
Another resident of our wounded inn had a degree in accounting. She had worked her way through college as a cook at a girl’s camp. It took her some 10 years to slowly pay her path through school. After graduation, she got a good job starting out at an accounting firm. Less than two years later she had a stroke, a fairly minor one. The part of her brain that thought sequentially was permanently damaged. Doing numbers was beyond her now, as was the simple task of following a recipe.
She looked "normal,” but the emotional and physical wounds were deep. Though she tried many different tasks, she could adequately perform none. Living now on the public dole, is she a greedy taker or does her mending of other residents’ clothes, her baking of cookies and cakes for every community gathering say otherwise?
Another had been a farmer’s wife in Minnesota. When she was in her early forties her husband died, leaving her to run the farm alone. She tried, but soon was felled with a disease (unnamed 20 years later) that left her with speech impaired, wheelchair-bound, and putting on enormous weight no matter how little she ate. She came to Seattle to be near her handful of relatives but found them unwilling or unable to help her, so she bounced from shelter to shelter before arriving with us.
This woman in her wheelchair came to every social event we offered, always smiling, never complaining of her lot. Every day, just getting out of bed was an act of heroic courage that left all who knew her stronger.
One man, an immigrant from Holland who worked construction for years before his now-controlled alcoholism put him on the streets, found himself in the hospital with a heart condition. Before his illness, he was again working part-time as a night watchman in a downtown building. He had no health insurance. Though he is now qualified for Medicare, he did not when the illness struck him. His hospital bill wandered in the neighborhood of $25,000. His only hope was to declare bankruptcy, quit working at his $9-an-hour job, and be now an invalid whether he wanted to or not.
Do we need health care coverage for everyone? Does that cost society less than the care people need later if we do not? Is such subsidized health care taking or making?
This community of quite dependent people, many of whom, to my admitted amazement, still vote Republican and believe in some form of American dream, never ceased to astound me with their spirit, their spunk, their generosity.
When flooding hit New Orleans, they took up a collection and sent almost $1,000 out of their meager personal funds to the victims. They did the same when a tsunami struck Japan. Twice a year, we took a van load of clothes and food to a women and children’s shelter sponsored by the same community that sponsored our facility.
This group of the very poor gave away a far higher percentage of what little they had than most of us who have a salary, including myself. Meanwhile, they paid taxes for the public good on toilet paper, light bulbs, clothes. Sadly now, in Seattle, they have to pay to ride the bus to see a doctor, visit the public library, or get to Value Village.
All across Seattle, we see folks who would far rather sell a newspaper, Real Change, than simply beg — a paper worth far more than the dollar it costs us or the 65 cents they earn. Even those folks we meet at busy intersections, waving signs telling us, perhaps facetiously, but tragically, if true, that they are “homeless vets,” work harder than many others do.
I urge this honesty about our society, about each other. Over the past 20 years the split between the most wealthy and the most poor in our society has grown faster and wider than at any time in our history.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!