I saw something today that has stuck with me.
I had dropped my daughter off and was grabbing a quick bite on my way to work when I saw a man and a little girl, bundled up and standing beside the entrance to the place I was going with a sign. I didn’t get a chance to read the sign but I am guess the gist that they needed help.
I live in Michigan and it was windy and in the 30s here, which means near freezing.
It broke my heart to see.
I have become used to seeing (and hardened at seeing them, sadly) people standing on street corners near the highway or busy thoroughfares with signs asking for money or help.
On my drive to and from work I watched a young man go from a healthy looking guy to a rail thin man with a bushy beard and eyes that seemed unhinged over the course of a year. He was out almost every day until he was suddenly joined by another man, who was more erratic and would yell at cars. The first man had a bag and some camping gear. Over time a chair appeared and a trash bag and water and other things. The men were joined by two other men that were also loud and aggressive with people driving by as they walked up to cars at the Stop light. It got so bad that I got a call at work complaining about it and then someone finally put manure in the areas they would panhandle.
I am used to that.
People who have ended up on the street or adjacent to it and who seem to make their money that way and never move forward.
I may not like seeing it, from my comfortable car and comfortable life, but it’s just a part of society that’s been around for a while.
It’s scary when you start to see families though.
Almost worse than that is that we’re at a point where we can’t really tell who’s genuinely in need and who’s on the grift.
I have seen people do this a lot over the years.
Have had people walk up to me at the market to ask for money, and then watched them hang out in the parking lot doing the same to people.
I have seen a couple that staked out to highway exits for months as they panhandled and had seen them change shifts.
Some folks need help, some are desperate, and some just choose the life, for whatever their reasons are.
They choose it.
So it’s hard to know who is genuinely in need and desperate and who is just trying to ‘get theirs’.
We went to a basketball game last night thanks to my wife’s boss and on the way out we were asked for money from a young kid, who when I said I didn’t carry cash, the truth, he said – ‘Cash App?’.
Same kid had been in the game.
Sure, maybe he got a free ticket and was in genuine need.
I doubt it.
But how do you know?
Just giving blindly to people to salve your guilt doesn’t help.
Some folks in genuine need may be helped but a lot of addicts and crooks will be too and hey, what do you care, you feel better?
I hate that though.
There are so many organizations out there to help people in need, but then those charities also are missing SO many folks.
Then there are the people too proud to turn to charity.
So what do you do?
It worries me though because I have been seeing more and more young people on the street, however they got there, and that’s scary because I also see how quickly they start talking to themselves and becoming erratic.
Whether it’s money issues, relationship issues, drug issues, or mental health issues they are on the frayed ends of society and we are losing them, one by one.
The pandemic certainly didn’t help, as jobs were cut and companies gouged.
We are seeing it all over the place now, with large companies with wealthy leadership gutting their workforce because they didn’t run their companies better.
Because wealthy CEOs and their staff can’t do their jobs the workers suffer.
It’s nothing new but right now, as we try to get out of the thick of the pandemic and navigate a budding recession, this is the time these people decide, gosh, I guess we really botched things, better cut back right before the holidays.
And yeah, it happens, there are downturns, and market changes, and yadda-yadda but those people are paid high salaries to navigate all of that and to steer the ship well through choppy water.
We are seeing the death of the middle class as they get squeezed by inflation and lack of work because they won’t settle for low pay and no benefits.
We are rocketing backwards to the dark ages of industry so the Musks of the world can be rich celebrities with big egos and bigger opinions.
We are watching people enter ‘hustle culture’ because they have no choice. They have to work more jobs to survive.
Some American Dream we have here.
Hustle culture has turned rotten as well as it has created a culture of micro-celebrities who live some made up brand and who force themselves on the world in the hopes of becoming an influencer.
They will rep any brand as they curate every moment of their lives to put on an act of a perfection that doesn’t otherwise exist.
Kids are becoming desperate for this sort of fame.
What started as idiots doing stupid and dangerous stunts for fame is now just people trying to look hot or cool or interesting so that they’ll gain enough followers to become an influencer.
So sure, those teen girls in skimpy outfits may be being followed by pervs and creeps but it gets them their views, right?
We are becoming a culture of falseness, built from that world of the curated self social media created, and we’re showing that we prefer the fake real to the real-real.
We don’t care that the beautiful model is posing beside a homeless camp, we just care that she looks good and is in front of some cool graffiti.
As if it could get worse you have those that use their wealth to get views, as they give out money to people ‘at random’ or drop crumbs to the peons to show how grand and generous they are as they reap millions from advertising and endorsements.
We have become obsessed with wealth and fame and if you have those things then you are seen as above everyone else and worthy not just of praise but of near worship.
Who cares if you are a vile person with hateful thoughts?
You are famous and rich and often beautiful and we want that too.
And while so many of us chase a fool’s gold dream of being an influencer who teenage kids will want desperately to be, a dream where we get famous by acting like we’re cool and interesting, families are hitting the street corners in the hopes of being seen.
How are we supposed to know who is in need and who is another hustler hustling for that green?
I just know that our fabric is torn and frayed and a lot of us are slipping closer and closer to the edge and the great abyss beyond it and most of us don’t even care.