To the four of you reading this; thank you for taking time out to look at my drivel. Changing up my usual humorous take on American life, I feel I have to play a serious note this week by addressing something that has been bothering me for quite some time. I am talking about the homeless in Santa Barbara and, moreover, in America as a whole.
I am a Londoner, and as such, I am somewhat – for want of a better phrase – used to seeing a large number of homeless people in the city. But here, there is something different about it. There is a distinctly high proportion of people “roughing it” on the streets in America, and even in Canada. In city centres, they can often appear on every street corner as every other person walks by, oblivious to their existence. Consequently, they become more desperate and worse off as the middle-class world goes by. Sadly, many are war veterans, shunned by a government that chose to ignore those who fought for their country.
I’m not going to try and squeeze in some astonishing facts and figures here. To be honest, I don’t know enough about the situation, but I’ve found it all a bit disturbing and not in an “Englishman-better-than-thou” kind of way. Many homeless people in America are quite overt in their manner; not aggressive, but they make it so apparent that they need help. Now, believe me, over the years I’ve become quite hardened to seeing homeless people and not giving money for fear of them spending it on drugs or alcohol or whatever. I don’t like being played for a mug. But for some reason, I feel differently here. Maybe it’s because there is such a stark contrast here in affluent Santa Barbara between the middle-class shoppers and the down-and-out homeless on State Street. But see, it’s not just here. In San Francisco, I found people frantically screaming on the streets at passersby. In San Diego, a line of people grouped together to go to sleep at the end of the day. I don’t know if this is a West Coast thing – I did definitely see a similar issue in New York – but it felt more… normal. It seemed as though people were more sympathetic toward each other and things were therefore a bit more tolerable, in a twisted kind of way. The contrast between rich and poor was far more blurred.
I’m not going to preach any answers or spout any pompous crap. I don’t have any answers. I am simply quite perturbed. It shouldn’t be that the richest of the rich can coexist literally alongside the poorest of the poor. For it to be accepted as the norm is an even greater tragedy. When I hear rubbish flying through the air out of a trash bin because someone is inside looking for food, it genuinely confuses me. I don’t understand how, in a country that has so much, that people can be denied just a slice of that. I saw John Cleese speak the other day at the screening of “The Holy Grail,” and he put it something along the lines of – to paraphrase – America holding the very best of the best, but simultaneously the very worst. Granted, some of those supposed homeless don’t deserve a free hand, and many choose to live that life, but others do deserve help. If you’re thinking that I’ve taken a random turn for the Good Samaritan, I guess for this week at least, I have. I usually berate you for trivial things that we can all laugh about, but I’m getting a bit tired of that. Aside from a vicious campaign battle between the potential first black/female president this country will have, there are so many serious issues that just don’t add up – and they are the issues that are ignored. It seems as though a politician’s background and presentation is far more important than a veteran or released mental asylum patient living on the streets. Blame Ronald Reagan if you like, but this is reality today. It’s ugly, and something needs to be done about it. You don’t need to join Oxfam or give all your money away; at the very least, just think about it.
So… that was different. See you next week? It’s my last one…