Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hard Times....

KIT-KAT came by to see me yesterday. Many of you have seen her downtown, trundling along with a shopping cart or a little red wagon, with her dog and all her worldly possessions within it. Sh'mal moved her into an apartment shortly before Christmas - and then went to Walgreens and got her a string of Christmas lights! She looks great - so thoroughly coiffed and shiny and happy I barely recognized her. Miracles happen when people are able to live indoors.

These miracles are not easy to come by. Landlords who are renting out roach-infested, substandard apartments in crack neighborhoods require credit checks and background checks before they will rent to someone. You have to pass a drug test to get a job flipping burgers.
It wasn't always like this. People with problems used to be able to rent rooms and get casual employment, pretty much just by showing up for it. Then they could go to community mental health centers that took drop-ins and charged a sliding scale that started out as low as a dollar a session. Public and community colleges had very low tuition and troubled "youts" could even go to school while they put their lives back together.

During the 1960s a lot of lives needed to be put back together. The 1950s was a period of silence and repression in our country. Alchol and pill addiction, child abuse and domestic battery took place behind closed doors while nearly everyone looked the other way and pretended it wasn't happening. A friend of mine once told me a story that is emblazoned on my brain forever, because it so typifies the era I grew up in. Her father was an alcoholic. One day he was passed out on the couch in the formal "parlor" where guests were entertained, just at the time the
family minister was due to come by for his weekly, 20-minute pastoral call. Her mother threw a couch cover over her father and had all the children sit on top of him, in a row, during the reverend's visit. The reverend may or may not have been taken in by this ruse, but if he wasn't he never said anything. That's how family problems were handled in the 1950s.

Little wonder that the teenagers and young adults of the 1960s turned the world upside down in our desire to "let it all hang out." The safety net we needed to get us through these years was in place. Now it isn't. If you have addictions, mental illness, emotional problems, you better have money or a family that will put up with you, or you are going to end up in a tent in the woods, or, like Kit Kat, sleeping behind a building next to a dumpster.

Legions of brave social workers, ministers, and volunteers are working on this problem - one person at a time. Someday we will prevail. It is a law of the universe that pendulums don't swing in one direction forever.

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