Tag Archives: Wealth

Reframing Transformation by Anny Shi

Skid Row, Los Angeles

Skid Row, Los Angeles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To me, as an Asian I don’t quite understand American culture. This is the first time I visit LA’s Skid Row and observed homelessness from a different point of view, and it was an eye opening experience. When I visited Skid Row and the fifty square blocks of downtown, I felt like I was dropped into an illusion, some place between the heaven and hell. Mostly, because only one block away, there are modern and luxurious buildings and apartments, then from where I was standing “the other side of the tracks” ironically there was extreme poverty and homelessness. According to Institute for the Study of Homeless and Poverty, there are about 254,000 people are homeless at LA County each year. It’s quite a large number.

First, I smelled the air heavy with a stinky odor; this even though I don’t have a good sense of smell. I saw piles of personal belongings covered with plastic and people sitting on the sidewalk. Most of the homeless I saw were males between 25 to 50 years old approximately. I was afraid to look at these homeless people directly, because I don’t know how they would react to my presence. Then I heard one of the homeless men greet us and I realized they are people just like us. I tried to find out who the man was, and I found he had a natural, easy smile and not the wretched frown I had imagined someone in his situation to have. My previous concept of homeless, as ragged and wrinkled faces showing signs of misery, despair, and hopelessness was wrong; I was surprised to see the resilience of their human spirit as they made the best of their situation. Especially, since in Taiwan most of the homeless I’ve seen show their misery and pain more obviously.

Later, as more and more of the men greeted us I began to feel more at ease and hopeful for something positive possible in their lives. I began to have more confidence looking at them and interacted with them more naturally. In a short time, I changed my prejudice of these homeless human beings. After some more detailed research of the homeless, there is usually not just one reason, for their situation, there are many other causes, including drugs, bankruptcy, violence, abuse, mental problems and unemployment. Consequently, I became more curious about how difficult it is for them to change their situation and end their homelessness?  Why do they take drugs, it is for money or is it about escaping from the real world? Is drug abuse psychological or physiological addiction? What is the benefit for them? If I were homelessness, what would I do?

This world can be warm with humanity and compassion. There are many Non-Profit Organizations and other agencies like The Midnight Mission and volunteers who offer support by means of food, job training and other educational opportunities.

I think that’s our social safety nets are reason these homeless people will not feel such deep sorrow for having nothing or no one to depend on. However, how many people can get educated or receive vocational training opportunities to help them get out of extreme poverty or social exclusion? But only if they are willing to take these opportunities to improve their standard of life can they have a chance to get out of homelessness. However, just as the book Cross Cultural Awareness and Social Justice in Counseling, categorized different cultures and people has having different characteristics, I cannot judge them only from my own perspective or my country’s culture. I need to respect all people even though they are now at the bottom of the socio-economic status. On the hand, I should more aggressively seek opportunities to be a volunteer and serve people who need my compassion and understanding; it’s a kind of dharma practice. Consequently, I will be taking some action steps in the immediate future. Mostly I will work with organizations that have the experience to help such people in effective ways that will have the greatest impact to change lives. I often feel that giving money to homeless people on the street directly only passes the buck, as it were, and only facilitates their drug and alcohol abuse. Instead by volunteering with professional organizations, I ensure that my efforts are making a real difference in their lives.

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What Do You Know?

Gini since WWII

Gini since WWII (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, over 5000 Americans were asked about income inequality in the U.S.  Amazingly, wealth inequality in the U.S. is now greater than it was in the 1920s, just before the Great Depression.  Wealth inequality here is worse than the inequality found many poor third-world countries.

So, how many of these questions on wealth inequality can you answer correctly (answers at the end of the post)?

  1. When asked respondents to the survey mentioned above said the top 20% of Americans own this percent of the total American wealth:
    1. 32%
    2. 59%
    3. 84%
  2. What percentage of the wealth does the top 20% of Americans actually own?
    1. 32%
    2. 59%
    3. 84%
  3. 92% of the respondents (yes that is right, 92%) think this country has the ideal amount of wealth inequality:
    1. Mexico
    2. Russia
    3. Sweden
    4. France
  4. In this ideal country, what percent of the wealth does the top 20% own?
    1. 32%
    2. 59%
    3. 84%

If you are like most Americans, you will be surprised by the correct answers, and that brings up the question about how best to educate people about what is going on in today’s America. We have so many problems that we need accurate facts to determine what we want and to begin the process of making America work better. Now, I realize there is a percentage of society that prefers their own facts (the authoritarian 20%), but how best to reach the rest of us? There is a lot of innovation going on right now on to use social media to engage people on social issues. I don’t know if anybody knows yet what works best, but in my project I will be building small quizzes on different social issues.

Hopefully answering them will be fun for the people taking the quizzes as well as educational. I promise I will not create any quizzes purporting to tell you how to stay in a relationship with your partner, or how your horoscope will affect your life in the next three months. But I will try to engage and educate you, or even better, you will engage and educate me! If you have any ideas about what quizzes you would like to see, what quizzes you don’t want to see (!!!), or if you have a better idea how to engage and educate (or anything else), I’d love to hear from you. Write me a comment or two, or three (or…) if you have any feedback.

Okay, answers listed backwards to make it a bit harder for you to cheat look ahead.

4. (A); 3. (C); 2. (C); 1. (B)

P.S., the amount of total wealth owned by the top 20% is probably underreported since a huge amount (billions, trillions?) of U.S. wealth is illegally hidden in overseas accounts.

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Communal Debt and Marginalized Suffering

The Jewelry District, a center for the trading of rocks and minerals priced beyond reason, a symbol of affluence and social status.

Skid Row, a center for the trading of disbanded souls and tormented economically realities of those without enough to sustain shelter or sustenance, a symbol of economic repression and public disenfranchisement.

As I ventured from the split realities of these two very contrasting societies, separated by an imaginary line of only a few city blocks, I was astonished to see the cost of wealth stratification and socially accepted poverty. People could be seen strung out across sidewalks, existing within shelters crafted from the most easily attained resources, who were trying to carve out a sense of belonging and ownership over what little they had left. Whilst I journey around in a group of peers, it was easy to be aware of the rift between these two worlds within one city.

Skid Row was an island surrounded by what resembled a city infused with fame and world-wide recognition as one of the most famous places in the USA, LA. Within her arms lay a different type of society, a group ravaged by infamy and untouched by the American Dream. This area of 4.31 sq mi., where an estimated 20,000 people live, has become a center where the city officials have now recognized and deemed poverty on the street legal.

Yet as I was made to witness this different side of the great LA city, I was not struck by its inhabitants or the means in which they are attempting to hold on. I was only reminded of the places I had once visited as a youth where the cold shoulder of society had allowed people to play house on the street. Towns like Bisbee, where homeless people had reinhabited the remnants of an abandoned gold rush town, began to surface images that I had forgotten over the years. Skid Row was a reminder of all the people I had seen in my past that remained almost untouchable, an all too distant people far removed from the great society and the middle class American who can always rely on the helping hand from the government. These people were the tired, sick, and hungry who were called by our statue of liberty. But what happened for them? Where was their relief? How were they any better here then anywhere else? Could this be just a facility where the lesser half could be reminded all that they are denied, just outside the consumer based greed in the jewelry district? What does this represent?

After my visit I though long and hard and find only one conclusion in my own heart. Skid Row stands to be a testament to the ability of people to bear witness and even endorse the disenfranchisement, poverty, and misfortune or others. By no other means would it be made so easily possible for some many to go with so little within one of the largest cities in America and just right outside a district, whose wealth is extracted from individuals who care more for a mineral than other human beings. I see humanity residing in the communities on the curb, rather than those dressed, clean, and employed in the stores surrounding them.

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