‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’

When someone is homeless or down and out, they become a target for abuse, partly because people believe that there will be no retribution or punishment, and perhaps because the individual is often too helpless to fight back. Bullying in society often is directed at people who have suffered misfortune.

by Jack Bragen

As a published writer, people might assume that I have money. This is not so. Writing doesn’t pay very much, and because of this, my wife and I need to collect disability insurance and SSI. If I could work a nine-to-five job, I would be doing just that. However, I don’t qualify for much, and most of the jobs for which I do qualify are precluded by my slowness and lack of stamina, caused by several decades of being on heavy medication.

The money provided on SSI doesn’t go as far as it once did. For one thing, my wife and I are docked a hundred dollars each for being married. Second, the prices of basic necessities have skyrocketed. Third, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, when in office, cut our SSI benefits.

Thus, my wife and I recently decided to seek free food from a church, which is something we used to do but had not needed to do in a while. We were pleasantly surprised. The volunteers giving out food were very kind in attitude and action.

An advance phone call gave us an idea of where to go for the food. The recipients of the food, some of whom appeared fairly well-dressed and well-maintained, and some of whom seemed worse off, were very considerate and made no trouble.

The food will come in handy for us. We got two loaves of bread, a bagful of fresh fruits and vegetables, a jar of peanut butter, a box of cereal, a box of dry pasta and canned food. They also gave us a voucher for more food at Safeway. We will be allowed to go back to the church for more food next month.

When my wife and I drive through downtown Walnut Creek while going to an appointment, we see the merriment of the affluent, who can afford to go out to some very expensive restaurants. Thus, we see both ends of the spectrum. I am more comfortable with those at the bottom, as they are unassuming and not narcissistic.

Poor people seem to understand what it is to suffer. This fact tends to make someone a lot less arrogant. I was once an arrogant person, and reaped misfortune because of this. I have finally learned that people’s good will is a valuable commodity.

People in our society too easily judge and vilify others, and often are cruelly unfair when someone is identified as a target for people’s moral scorn. Everybody joins in and there is a collective throwing of stones which occurs on many levels. How often are people not truly guilty of a crime, when the public has made up its mind that such a person is evil incarnate?

The bullying impulse is deeply ingrained, and will reveal itself when people believe it is socially acceptable to hate because others are participating. Yet, this doesn’t make it acceptable to attack and demonize our fellow human beings.

“Stop violence against the homeless.” Hate crimes and violent assaults against homeless people are a growing nationwide problem. Photo credit: National Coalition for the Homeless

 

When someone is homeless or down and out, they become a target for many people’s abuse, partly because people believe that there will be no retribution or punishment, and perhaps because the individual is often too helpless to fight back. Bullying in society often is directed at people who have suffered misfortune. As blues singer Bessie Smith sang so compellingly: “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”

Some policemen, who are paid with people’s tax dollars to “protect and serve,” will gang up on a homeless person. I have seen two police officers approaching an apparently homeless and frail-looking man, as they were getting ready to use a pain-inflicting hold on the man.

In what we now consider to be the Dark Ages, public executions were a form of entertainment. There is substance to the biblical passage in which Jesus said that only he who is without sin should cast the first stone. People ought to focus on their own rights and wrongs first, before calling another person immoral.

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