Monday, February 20, 2012

Some Homeless Forced to Eat Rats, Live in Sewers

Welcome to America (photo source: MrConservative)
The America that many of us think of does not include a desperate, daily struggle to survive. Even with the horrid economy that we are enduring, most Americans are getting by, going to work and then going home. Those who are lucky enough to have a job and a place to live tend to look the other way when it comes to those less fortunate than themselves.

"You might not want to read this article if you have a weak stomach," starts a blog post at MrConservative. "Most Americans have absolutely no idea what is going on in the dark corners of America and when people find out the truth it can come as quite a shock.  Many of you will not believe some of the things Americans are doing just to survive." Then, as promised, MrConservative get to the shocking grist of his post.

"Some families are living in sewers and drain tunnels, some families are living in tents," MrConservative wrote, "some families are living in their cars, some families will make ketchup soup for dinner tonight and some families are even eating rats."

I do believe it. I've seen this kind of urban survival in practice firsthand, still do nearly every day. At 56, I went homeless briefly in July 2011 and have been living in temporary shelters since. I am still looking for work and wonder where my next meal will come from.

As of this writing, I am down to $120 total and have no income other than the occasional donation or small payments from ads on this and my other blogs. I used to do high level administrative support for Fortune 500 companies in downtown Chicago. Since last July, I have gotten to know quite a few homeless people. Some are living under bridges, in cardboard boxes in alleys, or drifting from shelter to shelter. A surprising number of those I have encountered are ordinary people who had good jobs until 2008, 2009, 2010 when the bad economy finally overwhelmed them.

While none of the homeless folks I've gotten to know have said that they've eaten rats, it's not hard for me to imagine a situation in which somebody would do that.

Consider: You're homeless, you don't qualify for government benefits (or they've run out or you've been denied benefits for various bureaucratic reasons), you have no money with with to buy food, and you desperately need to eat something. There, over in the corner, is a rat. It's meat, after all, isn't it? A can of Sterno and a cheap frying pan pulled from a dumpster and you're cooking dinner. (Is eating a freshly slaughtered, nicely cooked rat really any worse than eating putrid food pulled from a dumpster?)

A tent city in Sacramento CA (obrag.org)
"Some homeless shelters in America are so overloaded that they are actually sending people out to live in the woods," MrConservative continued.

It's unsettling, but I know this to be true. I spent several months in Madison, Wisconsin after becoming homeless last summer. I went there because the streets are cleaner and safer than in Chicago, plus it's my home town and so I didn't have to learn my way around an unfamiliar city. A number of the homeless that I met there had come up from Janesville, just down the highway, where the homeless shelters are overflowing. Some of the Janesville homeless hiked up to Madison, where there are more shelters.

The shelters in Madison, however, were already full, and so the Janesville homeless exodus added to the number of homeless people living on the streets of Madison. Several homeless men I encountered told me that they were living in the woods, pitching tents and unrolling sleeping bags at night rather than returning to the shelters. Sometimes the shelters were already full by the time they would arrive, or the men simply did not feel safe or became too depressed in them. That happened to me: On my first night in Madison, I slept in a shelter in the basement of a church on the Capitol Square. It was depressing in a way that I cannot put into words. I opted to sleep on a bus stop bench the following several nights rather than return there.

"As you read this," wrote MrConservative, "there are close to 50 million Americans that are living below the poverty line, and that number rises a little bit more every single day.  America was once known as the greatest nation on earth, but now there is decay and economic despair almost everywhere you look.... As the economy continues to decline, the suffering that we see all around us is going to get a lot worse, and that is a very frightening thing to think about."

The blog is called "MrConservative" for a reason. He gets political, and his February 19 post is no exception. "Yes, I have written many times about how the U.S. government is absolutely drowning in debt and cannot afford to be giving out so much money," he wrote. "There are millions upon millions of Americans that are barely hanging on and there are no jobs for them. The suffering that those families are going through is very real. Millions of other families are trying to get by on the incomes they pull in from part-time jobs. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans that are working part-time jobs but that would like full-time jobs is now higher than it has been at any other time in the last two years.  The number of the “working poor” just continues to increase, but most Americans don’t have much sympathy for them because they 'have jobs'." Also be sure to read MrConservative's post, "18 Statistics That Prove That The Economy Has Not Improved Since Barack Obama Became President."

Here's a news flash for those who have jobs: How many pay checks, or tax increases, are you from considering filet of rat for dinner?
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