Invisible People

Today I’ve been watching videos and documentaries on the homelessness crisis here in the United States, particularly within Los Angeles.   It’s heartbreaking.  We have people working full time jobs, even pooling together resources with other friends and family, and they’re still not able to afford a roof over their heads and other basic necessities.

If you look at this video, particularly at 23:34, we meet a group of young people, working full-time minimum wage jobs, living in a tent on a sidewalk.  They can’t afford anything better, even working 40 hours a week.  They say they’re living a “dying dream”, and they’re right.  The person asks, “What am I supposed to do?”  I don’t know.  Nobody knows.  The system is broken.

The homeless are often mischaracterized as drug addicts, missing their teeth, babbling incoherently about the end of the world, dirty, holding some sign asking for money.  That’s not to say that doesn’t happen, but it’s far from how it is.  It’ll blow your mind to see that many of these are normal people, who you’d never guess are living under such miserable conditions.  One UCLA PhD candidate in mechanical engineering is living out of his car and showering in the park.  He tells you that between tuition, food costs, and other expenses, he just can’t afford to have a place.  At another point you meet a young college graduate who is living out of his tiny RV, with three other guys, which they park at the side of the road.  Completely normal looking guy, articulate, everything.  They’re all trying to save money, working crappy jobs, saving as much as they can, hoping to pay off their huge student loans and pay for a home of their own.  This is the only way they can save money or get ahead.

I feel for these college students.  I’m around them all the time.  I remember meeting a nuclear engineer who was $150,000 in debt and told me going to university was the worst mistake he ever made.  He was in a hole so deep, he felt he could never escape.  My cousin spent $200,000 earning his PhD in political science from Oxford, and also told me that it was the worst decision he ever made.  Him and his wife had to move home with his stepparents, where they were living for years, unable to climb out of that hole.  His mother then stepped in and had to bail them out.  They never would have gotten out on their own.  His wife had a similar huge college bill, and working crap jobs, even while living with their parents, there just wasn’t enough money to take care of it.  There was no future. 

I meet students all the time who live off of cheap ramen and mac & cheese.  Many live in small apartments with several other students, all sheltering the bills together.  Tuitition costs are ridiculous and it’s coming to a breaking point where many are questioning whether higher education is even worth it.  Universities keep throwing up big buildings, paying huge salaries to a bloated administration, states are cutting funding, and what not, and tuition costs just keep climbing way faster than inflation.  People have to borrow more and more against their future just to get an education, and now to make it worth it, many are living in their cars just so they don’t have to borrow so much money to attend school; it just takes so long to earn your degree.  It drags on and on.  To earn my graduate degrees in physics, I was there for almost a decade, and I’d argue over half (or more) of that time was spent in courses which were of no value to me whatsoever.  Most of the time I learned very little.  To me, I was just going through a long formality and I could’ve easily taught myself all that I “learned” in class.  Not to be mean, but all the material is also online, often by better, more passionate instructors.  You’re paying massive money just for a piece of paper which allows you employment opportunities, or so you hope.  Also, the entire time you’re in school, you’re incurring massive expenses and not making any money.  As the PhD student living in his car pointed out, when he calculated his expenses and bills, it became a rational decision to be homeless.  

At another point in the documentary, you see some convicted felons getting out of jail.  They were busted on drug charges.  You ask them what they’re going to do and they have no idea.  Nobody will hire them being ex-felons with drug charges.  Nobody will rent them an apartment.  And it’s not like crappy minimum wage jobs are going to offer them any future anyway; just look at the others living in tents on the sidewalk.  So what now?  As if years in jail wasn’t enough, now they’re let out, and it’s like, what now?  There is no future.  They go back to prostitution, dealing drugs, gang affiliations, etc.  What else do you expect them to do?  There’s nothing else!  When we let these people out of jail, we don’t even give them bus money to get somewhere.  One guy was like, well, I guess I’ll hop on the back of some train and see where it takes me.  Geez.

These are our society’s invisible people.  They fall through the cracks.  

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