My job is a fairly versatile one. I am one of the owners of two family-owned businesses, a security company and a janitorial company, and I do shiftwork for both companies at various sites. I also manage, do administrative work. One of the shifts we do is a men's homeless shelter. The other day, I said something that really, really bothers me.
See, this shelter is in a church, and most days of the week there's a free breakfast for anyone who stays at the shelter. Sometimes people don't stay for it. Yesterday, when one of the regulars left before the breakfast (I believe he has a job) and I said, reflexively, "going home?" Now, that's a common thing to say when someone's leaving somewhere, generally. When you leave a party, a workplace, a person's house or apartment, any place at all, that's something you're quite likely to say, so I didn't mean anything bad by it--but I said it to a homeless man. I quickly followed my faux pas with "uh, I mean, leaving so soon? Not staying for the breakfast?" He said "no," and I'm fairly sure he realized that I meant no real offense, but I felt bad regardless.
This was not the first time I'd had accidentally said something that could have offended one of these people by saying things that were not meant to be offensive, and that would not be counted as offensive by other people who are above the poverty line. For example, making mention in casual conversation that I had to clean my van, or playing with my iPhone while on shift can get me a dirty look or a a snide comment. One time, I asked one of the guys "how are you doing today?" The response was "how the fuck do you think I'm doing? I'm homeless." I may be slightly thoughtless in some way I'm not seeing, but I only intend to be friendly and supportive to these people, and to help them.
This is a very personal reminder of the growing divide between the classes. It has turned to outright hostility, and it's gotten so bad that even a bloody Republican candidate is being hurt by it.
I can't help but be reminded of Occupy Wall Street and some of the flack that wealthy celebrities got when supporting the cause. I remember the hubbub surrounding Kanye West's decision to march with the Occupiers. Currently, the top 2 comments on that video right now are calling Kanye an asshole for being a 1%er, even though he didn't publicize his plans to appear at OWS and he's the only mainstream rapper to even speak about the plight of the poor in song at all (So Appalled off his latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and probably a few other examples). Plenty of other pro-Occupy celebrities, like Michael Moore, have been hit with accusations of hypocrisy over their own opulence (note that Kanye was wearing a rather expensive watch and a gold chain when he went to hang out with the Occupiers) and it's a recurring joke that people like Bono and Angelina Jolie could feed more orphans by selling one of their mansions than with the benefit albums and PSAs they do.
The only way to ease this hostility is socialism, but in lieu of that, we need to give charities much more support. Let's face it: the poor won't help themselves. They can't. The system is rigged against them, and we all know it. Yet any attempt to help aside from the basic soup kitchens is likely to be met with scrutiny. And to be fair, when looked at from the other side, it can seem like one is being patronized when someone who's wealthier than you offers help. It can be a blow to one's pride. That, none of us can help. Neither can we really affect major change in the power structure that causes this economic inequality in any sudden manner like many Occupy Wall Street supporters seem to believe. Treating this disease can only be done gradually, through governmental agencies enacting socialistic policies and strategic boycotts, like the only OWS supported venture that really worked towards this goal was Bank Pull Out Day. For now, what we can do is treat the symptoms by dedicating ourselves to charity work in a more significant manner.
And we really have to. This class division is reaching a near fever pitch, to the point where I'd not be surprised if there were poverty riots in North America within the next few years, or if the Occupy movement turned into a full on revolution. There is no easy solution, but this is a problem that needs to be tackled.
It's easy enough for me to say I'm doing my part just by facilitating a homeless shelter, but that isn't enough. You can do your part fairly easily. Find a local charity that actually does good work in the community and volunteer for them. A good start would be www.habitat.ca or perhaps habitat.org for those outside Canada, but there are plenty of other non-profit organizations working toward lessening poverty. Either way, we definitely all need to do more, on an individual level, to alleviate the suffering of the most impoverished members of our communities.
Do your part.