“We define poverty as a dollar amount, but if you make a dollar above that dollar amount are you still poor?” This was just one of the questions raised at St. Mary’s Center on April 18, when academics, activists, and advocates gathered to hear the findings of a new report called “Pushed to the Bottom.”
“I walked by Jesus last night./ He was wearing/ a grimy T-shirt/ grease-stained chinos/ and a worn-out/ pair of sneakers/ with a broken lace/ He stood alone/ On Fourth Street/ where it crosses Mission/ And looked at me/ with longing eyes./ His dirty arms/ extended toward me/ in a silent plea.”
Reporting from “the shelters, back alleys, soup kitchen lines and slum hotels where mainstream reporters rarely or never visit,” Street Spirit runs stories on economic inequality and the daily grind of human rights violations that poor people face. It also chronicles the movement that is dramatically working for human rights.
The incredible thing about these recyclers is that they are surviving in spite of immeasurable odds against them. Their stories are an invaluable asset—akin to living maps which illustrate the holes in our safety nets and the true beauty, dignity, and value of those who fell through them.
Whether you’re in prison in New York/ or a detention camp in the fields of Nebraska/ I am you/ Whether you’re sleeping on a square
of cardboard in Oakland/ or under a grid in Philadelphia/ I am you/ I am in every living pulsating cell/ that hungers for justice
The streets where I lived were ruthless and frequently violent. I often suffered from hunger, and would go days without something to eat. There was violence almost every night — from shootings to robberies and rape. This caused me extreme fear. Every little noise, you wake up.
However bad conditions are for the middle-class, they are far more acute for the poor, who are trapped in squalid circumstances far below middle-class standards of survival. The “help-the middle-class-first” option, which might accurately be termed “trickle-down lite,” will not help those at the bottom of our society.