Reflections on Poverty and Possibility from the 2013 EPIC Journey
by Pat LaMarche
When Diane Nilan and I first met several years ago in a campground in South Central Pennsylvania, I had no idea that we’d team up to try and change the hearts and minds of people who don’t know much about homelessness. I sought her out simply because I was writing a weekly column for Maine’s largest daily newspaper, The Bangor Daily News. Tiger Woods had just smashed up his car and blown up his career and I was looking for a real hero — I wanted folks to see the difference.
I stumbled upon this little-known woman who had, at that time, been ramming the roads in an RV for five years. Her mission was to create documentaries that allowed folks to learn the truth about homeless kids and their families. She has many films to her credit; My Own Four Walls is my personal favorite. All you see and hear (with the exception of a few encouraging tones from Diane) are children. Children tell their story. And if you’ve got a dry eye after that movie, it’s time for an EKG. Her second film, a feature-length ditty, tells the story of seven women and their kids. You may not need a hanky at the end of that show, but you’ll definitely know that something’s terribly wrong with the way we treat the poor. (You can get info on Diane’s films and watch trailers, etc. at her website.)
Diane jokes that I said so many nice things about her in my column that we were bound to be friends. But it was, of course, way more than that. If you wake up most days feeling fortunate — what some folks call blessed — then you understand Diane and me. We wake up most every day thinking about our good fortune and knowing it isn’t shared by millions of others in this country. Knowing that takes the gitty-up out of our step. So we have spent most of our adult lives tilting at windmills trying to do something about it.
Did you ever wonder if Don Quixote would have gotten further if he’d had another daft knight at his side?
Tilting at windmills that contain millions of homeless children, adults, veterans, and the elderly is tough work for one. Diane and I decided to combine forces and began taking a series of trips we call our EPIC Journey. (EPIC stands for Everyday People In Crisis.) In 2011 we traveled the southeast, calling it our Southern (dis)Comfort tour. And this year we traced the steps of Steinbeck’s Joads, becoming the Babes of Wrath.
If you’ve been following my posts here the last 5 weeks than you’ve gotten a peek at what we’ve seen on our trip though many poverty centers of the desert southwest. We got one bite at the national media apple when Current TV picked up our story and had us on their Young Turks program out in LA. Sadly — and here’s where I get to tell the cynical jokes — no other big media thought a couple of middle-aged broads giving a damn about the nation’s underclass was “sexy” enough to put on their programs. (That’s what they call a good story in TV. When I was younger and thinner I was one of those TV people and I thought the term was a sad commentary on all kinds of things. After all, what’s sexy is really what’s deadly or stupid.)
I guess poverty just isn’t deadly enough for them. How shortsighted, really, as literally hundreds of thousands of people die of poverty each year in the United States, just not fast enough — like a plane crash — to be sexy. For example, Harvard University says about 50,000 die each year from a lack of healthcare. The Veterans Administration fessed up that 19,550 died last year before their needed benefits were approved. (They paid their survivors of course. Fat lot of good it did the dead guys.)
Did you know that the average life expectancy of a chronically homeless person is 47? That’s thirty years shorter than folks who have a home. I worked in a homeless shelter and of course people died. Anecdotally, the oldest was 48.
One of the most noteworthy events I witnessed along this year’s EPIC Journey was Diane reuniting with some of the people in her films. It was like seeing a mom hold her grown children that have been away just a little too long. And seeing those children hang on tightly in return.
There’s something a homeless person feels for the person that helped them. Something so strong and compelling that maybe only a mom and her kids would understand. Watching Diane reunite made me wonder what would happen if we all reached out to the 7 million or so homeless people in this country and helped them. Imagine! 7 million people who are currently at the very bottom of their game lifted up by and in turn loving their country — the way children love a mom that’s been nothing but good to them.
I want to live in a world like that…
Pat LaMarche has extensive experience working with the nation’s poor, most recently as Vice President of Community Affairs at Safe Harbour, Inc. As a former journalist and award-winning broadcaster, LaMarche spent more than two decades studying and reporting on poverty issues both in the U.S. and abroad. During her 2004 Green Party Campaign for U.S. Vice President, she took to the streets to uncover the lives of the homeless in what she called the “Left Out Tour,” resulting in the book Left Out in America: The State of Homelessness in the United States (2006). Among other venues for her work, LaMarche is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. She is working on a new book based on her reflections from the 2013 EPIC Journey, to be titled ‘Who Cares’.
First installment: Babes of Wrath
Second installment: Who’s Responsible?
Third installment: Up from the Depths
Fourth installment: Paying for Detention
Fifth installment: Homeless Students
Sixth installment: A World Like That…