I stepped out of City Center one evening last week, looking to take more photos of downtown while I had the chance. A woman age 32 and her two children, the daughter age 10 and the son age 8, sat on the stone planter that decorates the sidewalk, where a lot of professional people eat lunch around noon. I didn’t stop, but headed toward the Hennepin County Library a few blocks away, because this family had a sign about being homeless and a woman had stopped to talk with them.
On my way back, they still sat together on the planter, and I approached them. The mother came north from Tennessee, and her family lives in Tennessee and Alabama. She told me that the children’s father had gone to look for food, but not far. The bank holding their mortgage evicted the family when the mother lost her job, and the shelter they stayed at evicted them for some reason she couldn’t or wouldn’t explain. The mother had spoken with county services and they were going to stay in the Drake Hotel for a time before heading back down south. The little girl cried because she didn’t want to leave her friends in Minnesota. I gave the mother a $20 bill after talking with them and taking some photographs.
Homelessness in the United States makes no sense at all. Enough national wealth exists for every person, no matter their age, to live off of $50,000 per year — but it’s been distributed by our system so that we have some people facing extreme poverty while others collect extreme wealth. That makes no sense as a plan for organizing a community, but we remain stubbornly married to the concept that the “free” market will both reach the best possible result for all and cannot be improved on. That’s nonsense, of course, the modern shibboleth of our time; yet, we won’t step away from it and do better.
Every system has parts that benefit certain players and hinder others. You can see a sliver of the irony in our system in these photos: this mother will receive some welfare; the corporations that surround her in the buildings downtown — deemed legitimate businesses adding value to our society — receive far greater benefits from the system (“welfare”) than all the poor people in the country receive collectively.
Sunday comes in a week that I spend away from home, and I take the time to find some interesting things to see, because seeing interesting things pulls me out of my sense of dread — like reading and writing, listening to music, and any story told — giving me the sense that good change happens, too. Other people have had struggles, and they’ve made things from those difficult times. So, I head out to a couple of museums and just grab whatever I can on my iPhone, not to take from the artists who made the art but to express what I encountered in my experience, high and low. And then one photo from my trip to the museums and another at the mall (where I learned that J Crew no longer makes clothes that fit normal people over the age of 22).