While the rest of the nation was still enjoying a holiday vacation on Monday, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) was on the streets of New Haven spending a day with a homeless man to see what his life was like and to gather information to help him assess what can be done to assist people who have fallen to this, the lowest of circumstances and often the most difficult from which to recover.
Nick, the man he followed, and who prefers not to be identified, began life with the cards stacked against him. His father was an addict, and by the time Nick was 13 he was addicted to crack himself. At 15 he became a ward of the state.
To his credit, Nick turned his life around kicking his crack habit and becoming gainfully employed for over 20 years as a successful salesman. A year ago he lost his job in advertising sales and shortly afterward lost his home. He is now caught in the trap that holds so many back once they have lost their home.
Employers do not hire people who do not have a permanent address and those who are homeless can’t get a home until they have a job — it’s a catch 22 situation, as Murphy told Think Progress in a phone interview on Thursday, “He can’t get a job without a permanent address and can’t get a permanent address without a job.”
Murphy is a freshman Senator but he is no stranger to putting himself in the other guy’s shoes to see how he lives and what might be done to improve his chances for success. Last year he went on a “food stamp diet,” limiting himself to the amount of money per meal that a typical food stamp recipient has to spend. In that experiment he dropped 6 pounds in the first four days of his five-day journey into the lives of the poor living on the $4.80 a day the typical food stamp allotment per person.
The day began when Murphy met Nick at Columbus House the shelter where he spends his nights but which he must leave by 7:30 a.m. They made their first stop at the methadone clinic where Nick’s drug addiction is kept under control before making a stop at Dunkin Donuts and walking around to kill time until the library opened at 10.
When the library opened Nick spent the next hour and a half checking and answering his email and filling out job applications. Since he does not have a car he is limited to applying for positions in offices on a bus line, another pitfall facing the homeless in the struggle to climb out of the trap they are in.
In the end, the one thing that Murphy took away from his day as a homeless person was how important a factor having a stable home is in maintaining a productive lifestyle. “Without a place to live, Nick can’t find a job,” he said. “Without a house, it’s much harder for him to kick his drug habit.” Connecticut, like many states has a dearth of affordable housing making it extremely difficult for the homeless to break the cycle of poverty which imprisons them and too few politicians are inclined to even attempt to rectify the situation.
Beginning this month the problem is likely to become even more pronounced as Congress, in its infinite wisdom failed to renew the extension of employment benefits for the long-term unemployed. That had been Nick’s final safety net, $100 in unemployment benefits. As Murphy so aptly noted, “If we don’t extend unemployment benefits this month, you’re going to see a lot more homeless people here in Connecticut and across the country.”
Nick and Murphy visited a soup kitchen for a lunch of beans and franks with a helping of corn on the side before moving on to Nick’s AA meeting. After that they spent the next several hours walking around town, wandering from place to place trying to find someplace where they could get out of the cold for a while. The Senator should be thankful that it was Monday and not today that he chose to shadow Nick, as he noted, “When it’s 40 [degrees] you can’t be outside all day so our day encompassed a lot of walking punctuated with opportunities to get inside for an hour or two,” today the temperatures are much lower in New Haven.
Murphy saw the day as an opportunity to gain a unique insight into the plight of the homeless, something which is all too often overlooked or ignored by politicians at all levels unless they are looking for a way to get them out of their city. As the Senator told Think Progress, “There’s a limited amount you can learn about the reality of homelessness when you’re just sitting at a conference table.”
“As sobering as a day like this is,” the Senator said, “it’s slightly inspirational to hear somebody who’s been through what these guys have been through still believing there’s better days coming up soon.” But, he went on, “it’s unacceptable that people in the richest state in the richest nation in the world should have to live this dehumanizing experience.”
We agree, Senator.
h/t: Think Progress