I’ve probably met 5000 homeless people. Actually, I’ve probably met way more than 5000, but it’s difficult to count. Don’t believe me? Just ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; they get their count off by millions every year. But me knowing thousands of homeless people isn’t really surprising; I’ve worked with people experiencing homelessness for years.
In fact, when I ran for Vice President of the United States, after volunteering to help the homeless for a decade or more, I stayed in homeless shelters all across the country. Since then I’ve done a number of cross-country stints with my dear friend and national advocate Diane Nilan. And then there are all those people each of us meets every day just living our lives in the United States. These folks don’t admit to anyone that they are homeless. My guess – a very educated guess – is that 2% of the population of these United States has no home. That’s one out of fifty, in the world’s wealthiest country, that lacks one of life’s most integral necessities.
Now I’m not just writing this to get you to wonder – the next time you’re at a fast food joint or power retailer – if the person waiting on you has a safe warm place to lay their head. No, I’m telling you this because will all my experience for all these years, I’d never met someone who took a bus to a homeless shelter from another part of the country, until now.
You know, it’s honestly one of those urban legends: Groups or organizations or municipalities load a bunch of homeless people onto a bus and send them somewhere they’ve never been before, just to get rid of them. Nope, most folks in power don’t want to spend even that much money on a homeless person, when they could much more easily ignore them or simply criminalize poverty and drive them further underground.
Of course, I’m not counting people who got a bus ticket to go home. Nah, I’ve seen a lot of that. Most recently, in the autumn of 2014, I was in Williston, North Dakota – where the oil boom draws would be workers searching for living wage jobs but property prices have driven record numbers of these migrants into homelessness. In Williston I spoke with Kristin Oxendahl of The Salvation Army who explained that her largest budget item is bus tickets to send folks home.
Yeah, no. I’m talking about a person or persons who got loaded onto a bus and sent somewhere they’ve never been, where no one they know lives, just so they are no longer a bother to the community where they used to live.
Like I said, I’d never met anyone like that until this week: Thanksgiving week, to be exact. This guy walked into my shelter after the church he belonged to in Sacramento, California bought him a bus ticket to Carlisle, Pennsylvania because “there’s a lot of jobs. There’s alot farm labor and warehouses.”
Has he found work? No. Perhaps his severe mental illness is part of the problem. Or maybe the mental illness that plagues his country is really to blame. You’d have to be some sort of sick SOB to send a mentally ill man clear across the country – to a town where he knows nobody – looking for work. You’d have to be the same sort of crazy “I got mine” character that would deny sanctuary to people who face torture and death in their own country.
And you’d have to be a really derranged freak to build your presidential campaign on such seflishness and ignorance.
So you see, it ain’t just the Syrians we hate. Basically, we hate everybody.