Sunday, November 09, 2008

Hidden Victims

ATHENS, Ga. -- On the eve of the election, long after the late fall sun had set, I went for a walk down Lexington Ave. on the East side of Athens, Ga. I heard from a man named Ed that there was a homeless encampment in the woods down there, something people referred to as Tent City.
When gas prices went up to $3.95 (we're fortunate here in Kentucky) my lunch money dried up. No more 2 and 3 times a week going out for lunch. My expendable income, my recreational 'egg' money ended up going right into my gas tank. I was really beginning to feeling the pinch.
Down the sidewalk after several hundred feet, we came across a fence made from slender logs and some wire. It framed one side of a slight clearing in the woods, opening up for a path. Up a gradual incline, two small wooden structures were visible in the light of a fire, stoked by a man in a baseball cap. We made our way up the path and after a few feet, the beam of our flashlight caught a man lying down directly in front of us, arms sprawled out, either dead, drunk, asleep or all three.

A woman stood up in the second shack, just behind the fire, stretching her arms above her head. Approaching the two, I waved. "Good evening. Somebody told me this was a good place to camp out for a couple nights." The man shook his head and poked the fire with a stick. "Nope. All fulled up."

I pointed to where the path continued behind them. "How about up there?" The woman then, too, shook her head. "You don't wanna go up there. They're crazy up there." She paused. "And they don't like newcomers."
Recently my wife, The Saint, and I sat down and reviewed the state of our family economy. Understanding the degree of sacrifice necessary we decided to acquire a 10' x 16' storage shed. Lacking a garage we are hoping that the additional space will significantly unburden our 1800 square foot 5 person family dwelling.
I went over and said hi to Bobby, poking my head inside his wood hut while he tidied. Above the door was a Georgia Bulldogs flag, a little tattered. Inside, Bobby sat on a small bed, straightening items on top of an old wooden, furniture-style television set. The room was small enough that he could sit on the bed in one spot and touch all four walls, but he keeps it tidy. He smiled bashfully when I asked him if the TV works. He told me, "Yeah, it work, but I don' watch it much." He quickly went back to his tidying, laying out a folded t-shirt on the bed.
. . .
Ed explained to me that the wood shacks were built a while back by members of a Chicago-based organization called The Mad Housers, who visit places like Tent City and assemble these simple, permanent structures for people. "They're a good group," he said. "They have an understanding of housing as a basic human right."
When the Saint said she wanted to home school I made the observation that we would be 'poor' - being a single income family in a two-income economy. The Saint taught home school for 12 years. Just this last fall our youngest transitioned into public highschool. Across those years my single income has bouyed us well. However it has been our austere life style that has made it affordable.

The Saint is in the process of becoming a Certified Home Child Care provider. This will compliment my income nicely. The space freed up by storing our stuff in the shed will be turned in to her 'day care' space. We will continue to enjoy the fruits of our labors and the simple rewards they afford.
Everybody went to bed early, so I watched Obama's acceptance speech alone on the couch. I knew it was an epic moment, one that would define my generation, but I couldn't grasp it. It felt like I was watching underwater or in a thick fog. I watched footage of thousands of crying and cheering people, dancing in the streets all across the country. Sitting alone on a couch in Georgia, a state that voted overwhelmingly for McCain, it all felt very far away.

I knew that there was no dancing in Tent City that night, no tears of joy. I wasn't sure how relevant the lives of those sad and struggling Americans in Tent City were to the lives of these other sad and struggling Americans, who now managed to find their redemption in Obama's victory.
I too stayed up to watch Obama's acceptance speech. In the comfort of my middle class home, surrounded by my family, I celebrated the victory of democracy.

Today I am reminded that my new Amish built 10' x 16' shed would make a very nice home for someone or some family not as fortunate as I or mine.

Excerpts taken from The Place that Hope Forgot to Visit on Election Day
New America Media, News Report, Russell Morse, Posted: Nov 09, 2008


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