American Caricature

Today we were talking about what we want to be when we grow up. 
"I want to be a homeless," one of the five-year-olds said. 
"A what?" I asked.
"A homeless."
 
"What's a homeless?" I ask, thinking I've misunderstood.
She rolls her eyes. "You know–like a person without a home."
Oh.  
"Why do you want to be homeless?"
"Then I can live with my friends."
She's already got it figured out, and she's five. She knows all about the plumbing/landscaping/heat and air/insurance headaches a homeowner endures. She's just going to mooch off her less perceptive friends.
The NLCHP estimated, in July of 2009, that 3.5 million people in America experience homelessness every year. Disconcerting, isn't it? Not an exact science, of course, counting people who can't be pinned down with a physical address, but still. 
We hear a lot of ruckus right now about how access to medical care should be a basic, inalienable right–and this sounds reasonable to me. But I'm also wondering…isn't shelter an equally urgent need? And then, if you are going to guarantee everyone a roof over their heads, and a doctor to care for them, don't food and clothing fit in there somewhere too? 
All reasonable, right? But where does it stop? Where, for the adults who are thinking like this five year old still, does the responsibility start? 
I'm not saying we shouldn't provide anything to anyone.  I've just observed a lot of adults lately acting like preschoolers.
 
Single mothers who don't marry the fathers of their children because if you counted both incomes, they probably don't qualify for all their subsidies. 
Women who collect food from WIC that rots in their fridge or goes stale on their shelf because they don't get around to cooking with it because they can afford not to. 
Fathers who do not provide for their families–estranged or not–because they know their kids are not actually going to starve or go homeless–especially if Daddy makes himself scarce.
I don't presume to have the answer. I know there are many truly needy people, and you hate to see children suffer for their parents choices, but the political clamor I hear reminds me of the siege I was under today from a three year old.
She loves nothing more than to put on other children's socks and shoes. It's a fetish of hers. Possibly because it makes the other child freak out, every time. "My shoes! My shoes!" 
Anyway. She does this, every day. And every day, several times a day, when it is time to go outside or when she just feels like it, she demands that I put on her socks and shoes for her. And I do, because it is easier than arguing with her about how she can do it herself. 
Today I tired of the game; I told her that if she wanted to go outside with the big kids, she'd have to dress herself, like a big kid. She pouted, whined, shouted, and threw things at me. For almost an hour. 
And then she sighed, sat down, and put on her socks and shoes. She put on her coat and asked me to zip it up, which I did, because she honestly can't. 
You have no idea how long an almost-hour can be, when you're under siege by a three year old.
I know some adults who have been throwing their shoes around for a long time.
I know a lot more who have their shoes put on for them, every day.
I know it would take a lot of patience and they might shout themselves silly and throw things at us and in the end we'll probably still have to zip them into their snugglies, but truly, I think there are a significant number of people on the program who really could do it for themselves. If we stopped doing it for them. 
I see no easy way of differentiating between the ones who can and the ones who can't. Except maybe trying to mend the disconnect between the ones with the bare feet and the ones dealing out the shoes. Finding solutions that make our social system an instrument of compassion and wisdom, run by and for people who understand and love one another enough to do the right things, even when it's difficult.
Sounds Utopian, I know. But there must be a way.

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