Have Faith in the Big Provider




Panhandlers won’t even have to ask.

A regular Washington Avenue panhandler tried to hit me up on South Miami Beach for some change again the night before last. I reminded him that, despite my affluent and confident appearance, I am in a desperate bind myself, on the very verge of homelessness. I asked him to wish me luck in finding a job, for if I found one, I would surely treat him to a buck or two. Ironically, I am often approached by people who are seeking work – apparently I look like I’m the boss of something instead of the desperate job-seeker that I am.

This panhandler was compassionate: he advised me to go into the rehab program if things got really bad. Then I would have somewhere to stay, he said, and they would help me get a job. But, I said, I do not do drugs nor do I drink. No problem, he claimed, just take three shots of booze before you go down there, and you’ll get accepted. Well, I jested, rehab sounds better than parole: I hear you have to commit a crime to get on the honor system to get housing and jobs, but downing three drinks doesn’t hurt anybody except yourself.

I thought the rehabilitation scheme was some sort of joke until another one of my street consultants made the same recommendation; with the additional advice to stand directly in from of the CVS Pharmacy on Lincoln Road after downing a half pint booze, scream incoherently and throw cans and bottles at the tourists – that way, the cops will give you a free ride to a psychiatric institution, which will keep you for five days and get you a social worker, who will get you some housing, and so on. So the scheme is no joke: the joke is in the fact that I, who am willing and able and competent to work, would have to pose as an addict or an alcoholic to get food and shelter, and then would have no work – my consultant recommended the writing of novels and books of poetry during the recovery period.

Furthermore, I noticed a letter to the editor of one of the free sidewalk weeklies a few weeks back: the disgruntled writer complained about companies he says are making a great deal of money off the public for providing services to the afflicted population, which he is assumes is shiftless if not mentally ill and addicted. As for the homeless, I met a formerly homeless man up in Kansas City who made a name for himself as a protestor while living under a bridge: he protested against the private institutions serving the homeless, saying they were ripping off the homeless as well as the general public. Maybe I should apply for employment with one of those organizations. Or maybe I should read Elmer Gantry and go on a fund-raising tour.

I saw in the morning’s paper a few weeks back that President Bush was in Miami pushing vouchers to fund faith-based charity again. He held up Miami’s Peacemaker Family Center of Trinity Church as a shining example. The center received fifty grand, and used the money to hire a grant writer and twenty two more employees in addition to the original three. Gee, I thought, I could have used one of those jobs. But then I wondered if the charity discriminated on the basis of religion when making those hires. The pay must be awful. Fifty grand would last twenty-five employees only a month at low pay. I hope they got a lot of addicts and alcoholics off drugs and booze. I don’t think anyone is getting rich off charity around that church.

But of course there is big money in welfare programs if you know what you’re doing and don’t mind the hypocrisy of stuffing your own pockets with stuff intended for people who badly need stuff. As for government funding of faith-based charities, I suppose religious programs should get a share of the public funds instead of waiting for the god of love – who helps those who help themselves – to provide concrete answers to generous prayers: “Dear Lord, please provide me with $6,430 by the end of the month so I can have time to write an inspiring book about charity.” Alas, as so many ministers know only too well, the compassionate flock does not voluntarily provide enough material to go around, so the church administration is short on goods and services to hand out even though the preachers are always long on spiritual advice and can speak to millions at once given our modern technology.

I saw yet another, typical report on homelessness last Wednesday. A guess at the total number of homeless persons in the richest nation in the world leads to the conclusion that homelessness has doubled. That is contrary to what the mayor of Miami, the most impoverished city in the United States, said yesterday; he stated while campaigning that homeless is way down in Miami since he took over, and the real estate market is way up, so there: the Herald reporter did not ask him to back up his statements with facts, or ask him why so many people were to be seen sleeping in doorways nearby. Well, we know who the homeless are by now: the newspapers and magazines provide sketchy biographical sketches of six or eight homeless persons at a time. From the sample of eight in the Wednesday report we can reasonably conclude that irresponsible behavior causes homelessness, and that at least ninety-nine percent of homeless people are probably stoned, drunk, and crazy.

Furthermore, they want to be that way. They will say so themselves. As we all know, god provides freedom for people to sin and pay the consequences. The Great Asian Tsunami that left millions homeless is no exception, for it came to cleanse people of their sins on the very lunar holiday dedicated to the cleansing process. Sure, there are a few who fall through the cracks: sober, hard-working people who lose their jobs and housing, and wind up on the street. But they have it coming too. We can’t say why, for god works in mysterious ways. If they fail to meet the acid test of street life, and go off their rockers, drink, smoke some cheap crack – not only is that divine providence but it is also their fault.

With our fate looming somewhere ahead, whether we know or like it or not, the best we can do is go through the motions while having faith in the big provider, and hope and beg for the hand out we deserve. But hoping and begging can lead to disappointment, because we might hope and pray for what we do not deserve, and get nothing but bitter tea to drink. Whatever the consequence might be, some people say we should be careful about what we pray for. As for me, I think I deserve a newspaper column, a few articles published by major magazines, a book contract, and the like. Not only because I’m pretty good at writing, but because when I get some dough I’m going to do god’s work and hand out some cash to the panhandlers on Washington Avenue every once in awhile – they won’t have to ask – my god already knows what everybody wants.

# #

Miami Beach, May 2005

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