Last Wednesday morning we found a dead body at The Voice office backdoor. The cause of death was unknown to us, but the poor guy seemed to be homeless and probably ill. His prescription bottle was one of the obvious signs, the other being his skeletal frame that was hidden under layers of insulated clothing. The day before his death, he laid bundled up near our front door in that same weather resistant jacket that when unzipped exposed his emaciated body. We didn’t know just how sick he was or that he had less than 24 hours to live, we just knew he couldn’t lay there so close to the doorway. He mustered up the energy he had left and moved to the back door where he later died.
I knew nothing about him, not even his name. I didn’t know how old he was, if he had any family, or what led him to the streets and living without shelter or proper care. But the thought of his dying in the middle of the night, cold and alone, continues to haunt me.
In a nation that has so much, he seemed to have had so very little.
His situation, like thousands of other Americans who sleep on city streets every night, is a reminder that despite strong economic growth and continued prosperity there are those among us who continue to exist in a state of need. We must not forget that 4 in every 10 Californians are living in or near poverty, most are the working poor who rely heavily on social service safety nets to survive. With a lack of affordable housing and the proliferation of “poverty wage jobs” throughout our region we will continue to need thoughtful and innovative public policies to mitigate the problem. Which brings me back to that haunting feeling of arriving to work to find a dead man at our door. I know government can’t solve all social problems, but one of the basic governmental functions is to “promote the general welfare,” or as one professor explains, it is “the steering mechanism for a society…that forms the policies that keep society heading in the right direction.”
After months of negative campaign rhetoric at all levels – from the incendiary national debates to the racially divisive and mean-spirited local ones – I continue to have a profound sense of anxiety about the direction of our government both at the state and national level. While the Trump Administration is shaping-up to be highly militarized and a woefully inexperienced group of billionaires, California’s Democratic supermajority leaders are more concerned with fighting climate change than they are committed to creating a climate that supports economic growth and helps to end poverty.
It seems we are facing a battle of extremes with our federal government leaning to the far right and our state government grounded in the far left. And this fight is just getting started. This week Democratic lawmakers returned to session vowing to “fight” the policies of the new administration. And the Republican administration continued nominating key cabinet posts with individuals whose beliefs, background and bluster are cause for alarm… Jeff Sessions as attorney general and Ben Carson as HUD Secretary are perfect examples. I just hope the masses of those in need, like the man who died at our door last week, aren’t simply collateral damage in the political posturing and public policy battles to come.