ADDICTION AND THE UNDERGROUND ECONOMY
Years ago, when I volunteered on the swing shift at St. Francis House, I often noticed that, after dark on the day the disability and Social Security checks arrive, a car would pull into the parking lot of the convenience store across from St. Francis House and a man in a suit and tie would disappear into Lynch Park. It wasn’t always the same man, but it was always a man in a black suit driving a black car, probably to be more invisible to law enforcement. This was the crack man, come to harvest the homeless people’s money.
The crack man gives out free samples of his wares, a deadly practice. Addiction experts say that crack cocaine is the most addictive substance on the face of the earth and many people become permanently addicted the first time they use it. The crack man also extends credit, just in case someone might decide to spend a little of their money elsewhere, so he is there to get all or most of their checks. He is a scary guy. I met him once face-to-face, in the early days of the Home Van. We were parked in the same parking lot. He walked over and stood there staring into the van. Competition will not be tolerated. After a moment of frozen silence, I gave him my best “Suzie Stupid” smile and said, “Would you like a cup of hot chocolate?” He pulled a big wad of paper money out of his pocket, snapped it in my face, and said, “I don’t need your hot chocolate.” Then he disappeared into Lynch Park. If you cross the crack man you are going to end up dead or seriously disabled. This man participates in inducing or even forcing homeless women to smoke crack and then putting them to work on the streets.
The crack cocaine trade is also financed by selling food stamps. The going price for food stamps is 50 cents on the dollar. I have been told that some convenience stores located near drug areas buy food stamps for 40 or even 30 cents on the dollar. Individuals buy food stamps because they need more food than they are getting, or as part of the general trade by which people obtain tobbacco, batteries, dog food and other amenities that are unavailable or scarce to poor and homeless people. Every governmental body that cuts down on the amount of food and other services available to homeless and hungry people are helping out the crack man and other predators. As the Taoists say, the web of life is an unbroken whole and every act, every decision, reverberates through all our lives.