Thursday, October 7, 2010

Picking up the pieces

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Any time I talk to people who make their living by digging through dumpsters hoping to salvage something of value that they can sell I am further convinced that most of them choose this way of life. Why else would they work so hard for so many hours each day to barely survive? Usually someone who is pushing a stolen shopping cart that is packed with someone else's garbage is lucky if they can sell what they have collected for more than ten dollars. And in some cases most of what they push around all day won't sell at all. In fact, the cart itself is almost always worth more than they can pick up in a week. So the question is, if this life isn't by choice than why? Considering the number of people who do this every day in South Columbus it is inconceivable for me to believe that most of them have no formal education or are without any skills whatsoever. So if there are minimum wage jobs they can do than why don't they have one? At more than seven dollars an hour and forty hours a week surely they would fare better than cashing in bags of empty aluminum cans and whatever else they can find discarded in some alley. A job doing anything else would have to be better than walking through some alleys that can be dangerous in more ways than one. Areas where they might be subjected to others who might challenge them for anything of value they may have found that day, or to dog attacks or even issues that threaten their very health. Handling dirty items all day and picking up what could be life-threatening germs. Braving the heat of summers and the cold of winters risking further health issues like heat stroke or frostbite. I have heard the excuses they all seem to have, like no one is willing to hire them and that they would rather work for themselves and be their own boss. That second one is probably the real reason for most, but when they say that no one will take a chance on them by giving them a job I find that hard to believe. But even if I accepted it as true I would suggest it is probably their own fault. Maybe because they don't try hard enough to sell any talents they may have or because they have done something heinous in their life and potential employers either fear them, or maybe because they have restrictions regarding who they can hire. For example many employers are forbidden from hiring certain felons, and if that is the case it is hard to argue that whatever they did wasn't any one's fault but their own. If the reason for them being unemployable is because they have issues with drugs or alcohol than that too was by some choice they made for themselves. And sometimes the excuse can be something to do with a disability that they cannot help. But if that were the case how are they able to push heavy shopping carts all day and tip over heavier dumpsters to scavenge through? They seem to walk just fine and when I see them loading their carts with items like car batteries and other heavy objects I have to assume their arm muscles work when they need them to. I have seen these junkers lift discarded car windshields and even heavy furniture items. If on the other hand their disability has something to do with mental health than the argument for being unemployable would be valid. But I have talked to many of these people who do know what day it is and how much a pint of liquor costs, how much their goods are worth as well as how old they are, where they went to school and for some what they did in the military. And if they were in the military and have found themselves in the lifestyle they are in than whose fault is it? What does that say for us as a people? But even if they are veterans and have somehow fallen through the cracks that society has left for them like land-mines than where are the people who once cared about them? People like their families or whoever their friends were? Did everyone turn their backs on them and if they did, why did they? Did the military itself and the government that runs it also slam a door in their faces? Without answers to those questions it would be impossible to know for sure why some of these people live in cars and cardboard boxes. However if the world has turned on them than how is it that it hasn't turned on other veterans, or how can we explain the vets in wheel chairs, some with no arms or with no legs who continue to serve, either by entering politics or by volunteering their services for other vets and numerous charities? I know there are such cases where veterans have been kicked in the teeth by the country they have served but they are few, or at at least I hope those numbers are. Those who said they were left behind by an uncaring society that they protected were men that to me brought some of of it upon themselves just by what they had to say. Either by giving up or by the choices they made when they got back. The fact is some of them have said things they must take some ownership of for what caused them to live as they do. For a lot of them it isn't all someone else's fault that they can't find other ways to make a living or that they choose to not even try. Pushing a junk cart, panhandling or stealing what they need is a cop out for making tougher decisions such as cleaning themselves up and reaching out to agencies that might be able to help them. This becomes obvious when they refuse any attempts I have made to try to help them. And I have made those attempts but they have all been met with resistance and wanton disregard for wanting anything better than they have. When I have explained that I am a former police officer and that I might know people who could place them in touch with someone who could help them I have been told they didn't need any help, didn't want any and even to go to hell. One guy said that cops caused all of his problems and that he wouldn't piss on one if he were on fire. Another one told me that he had been to every agency in town and that no one was willing to even speak to him. That wasn't true because it just isn't. I know of no agency in the business of helping people who refuses to speak to anyone reaching out to them unless that person is a known problem that isn't capable of being helped. And to fall into that category I can only think of one scenario that would make them believe such a thing, and that is that they have already tried repeatedly and the person has a pattern of causing them more grief than their efforts are worth.
There is help for most of these alleycats but I am guessing that they prefer spending their working day doing the work they are over becoming someone they don't really want to be.

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