Tent Cities by William Klein

As I drove through the streets of LA on a recent visit, I noticed more makeshift housing on the hills and side of the road. I’d seen this on skid row, but it was never visible on the streets of LA.

I couldn’t get over the number of tent cities.  There are people literally living in tent cities at the VA Hospital around the corner from where I lived in Brentwood. Virtually every bridge had tents.

One guy barricaded himself in with shopping carts that held his belongings and the necessities for survival. He connected blue tarps to the fence to keep the elements of nature off. The sad reality is that the numbers of homeless are growing and city managers are having a harder time trying to move them out.  Recently they’ve passed ordinances that will force homeless to keep moving. 

There are a number of reasons for this. Downsizing during the covid crisis is one but a friend of mine told me that the trend was happening long before that. Clearly the gulf between the haves and the have nots is growing. California is a desirable spot because of the warm weather.

The other problem we are facing is robotics and more efficient ways of producing products leaving many workers displaced.

Meanwhile corporate salaries continue to rise. Sen. Bernie Sanders has cited Economic Policy Institute numbers mentioned that CEO’s salaries have risen 1,167 percent since 1978 to 2019 while the average worker’s pay has risen only 13.7 percent.”

Laura Weiss of Roll Call reported that “Some pay multiples have been in the thousands, particularly at companies that employ primarily part-time workers or gave CEOs new, front-loaded pay packages. Tesla, Inc reported Elon Musk’s pay of 2.3 billion was 40,668 times the average worker’s pay for the year. That was because of a package on the books that year and set to be paid over a decade. It helped Musk become the second-richest person in the world.”  Weiss writes that boards and investors are becoming wise to the inequality of pay especially during this time of covid.

It is hard to watch considering in the past two years a trillion dollar tax break was given to the wealthiest individuals. Trickle down economics has been a proven failure, but the rich continue to reward the rich.

I don’t pretend to have the answers.  It’s more complicated than we may realize.  I do know that there have been times in our history where people have been called upon to help the most vulnerable among us and we rose to those challenges. Some Christian friends may view this as enabling, but having seen the fruits of our willingness to help, I would beg to differ.

Makenzie Scott recently made a generous donation to Greg Boyle’s “Homeboy Industries” totaling $20 million.  Boyle’s mission is to give meaningful jobs to those who need them. It seems to me an infrastructure deal could be the very thing we need to get this country moving again.

I talked with a Christian friend about our responsibility to others.  She admitted that she was not as tolerant of the poor as she could be.  I just wonder what part of being attentive to the poor was left out of her catechism? She reminded me of the new tenant being espoused that “socialism is detrimental to capitalism. It will be the ruin of this country.” If capitalism is not doing its job and attending to the needs of the poor, maybe we need to examine that. What about corporate socialism and the bailout of companies?

The likes of Warren Buffet and Mackenzie Scott seem to understand their responsibility and are doing something to give away their fortunes to those non-profits who need them. They realize the blessings of their fortunes are just that.

Nature is clear in terms of how we survive. It thrives due to a confluence of influences based on its needs. As the old famous saying goes, a tree needs the sun and water, a flower needs the bees and other nourishment and so on.  So too it is with humans. We are not sustained without each other.  We cannot begin to thrive without each other. Sometimes the lessons are there before our eyes.

It’s pretty clear that Jesus supports the disenfranchised. He touched the lepers, outcasts in society.  He was seen in public with women, a no-no.  He had dinner with tax collectors who were deviants in society to bring them along in their treatment of the poor.  Most importantly, he told the parable of Lazerus and the rich man in Luke 16.

Lazerus who is begging for scraps from the rich man’s table and is denied his fill dies.  The rich man dies and is suffering while Lazerus is rewarded by Abraham. The rich man’s torment is too much to bear. Some scholars believe that is only half the story.  The rich man returned and did the same thing. Jesus was calling out the rich man’s responsibility to his fellow human.

Read literally, for my Christian friends, let us not forget that Jesus called us to serve the poor. This was unconditional. It was not meant to be conditional. In Jesus’ parable, the rich man suffered for not attending to the needs of the poor.  No two ways about it.

Lazerus and the rich man. Take it literally or figuratively, no matter how you stack it, Jesus is clear. It’s one thing to preach the tenants of the Gospels of wealth, it’s another to abide by the teaching of Jesus and bless the poor through our good works.

Our tent cities are still beholden to us in our society.  How we respond to their needs will determine the greatness of our Nation.

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