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The Dilemma with the Homeless


If you've been to San Francisco lately, then you know
homelessness is a big problem. It's impossible to go
anywhere in the city without being confronted by
panhandlers and other individuals living in exile. More and
more common is the frowzy vagabond with the sign "Homeless.
Will work for food. God Bless." Even outside urban
communities, this has become a prevalence at busy
intersections and freeway off-ramps. I'm not trying to say
homelessness is a newly emerging problem in our society.
I'm sure homeless people have been around since the
Pilgrims left Europe in search of religious freedom.
However, the situation has escalated to such a degree in
the last ten years that it's obviously now a chronic
problem that our government is trying to write off.
Ironically, as the number of homeless families increase
across our beloved country, so do corporate profits.
Driving right past the beggar on the street corner are
sixty thousand dollar automobiles with passengers too busy
to stop and throw out a dollar to help feed a hungry
American with no place to live. Something is very wrong
with that picture.
I once had the misfortune of being stranded in San
Francisco in the middle of the night. My car was stolen, I
had no money and no one to call. I went to an all-night
restaurant to escape the cold and sat on a couch in the
lobby to think about what I was going to do. After about
thirty minutes, I was approached by a squalid gentleman who
asked if I needed a place to stay. A little hesitant, I
shrugged my shoulders and nodded. We walked a couple blocks
to a shelter for homeless people. My guide said his name
was Evan, and the place we were going wasn't exactly the
Hilton, but it was safe. It was an empty government
building in the Civic Center area. The smell was
horrendous; a mixture of BO, bad breath and urine. The
sleeping area was a bare room, no furniture, with literally
hundreds of people sleeping on the floor. I didn't think I
was going to be able to stay because of the loud snoring
and bad smell of the other occupants. Evan sensed my
discomfort and began to tell me a story about how he came
to be homeless. He had worked as a long distance operator
at AT&T for several years. He told me of the new
supercomputers for operator services which AT&T had
installed called OSPS. Evan was one of thousands of AT&T
employees who were laid off because of the downsizing which
the new system created. All over, offices were closed and
services centralized to one location. AT&T was now able to
provide the same services with only one quarter the
employees. This large reduction in payroll could only mean
greater savings for profit sharing. Thanks to the computer,
people like Evan were no longer needed.
Downsizing is not exclusive to the long distance industry.
Nationwide lay offs have infiltrated almost every business
around the world. Since the advancement in computing
technologies, it is now possible to accomplish the same
amount of work with a fraction of the effort it took fifty
years ago. No wonder Bill Gates, the leader of Microsoft
Corp., is the richest man in the country. Since increasing
profit is the ultimate goal of any business, it's no
surprise that the job market is shrinking. More and more,
computers are taking the place of laborers, manufacturers,
clerks, attendants and other workers. Politicians preach
that when elected to office, their policies will create so
many thousands of jobs, and unemployment will be cut back
to a normal percentile. The streets of San Francisco tell
me differently. What looks good on paper is a nice fat
bottom line, and that is what ultimately will steer the
decision-makers in today's corporations.
One of the most blatant examples of corporate greed is the
recent operational changes at Nike Corp. This leader in the
athletic shoe industry has used a manufacturing tactic that
is not only harmful to the U.S. economy, it's downright
immoral. When the shoe barons realized that production
expenses were becoming increasingly costly here in America,
(i.e. employee wages, safety regulations, operational
taxes) they decided it was more profitable to lay off all
the American production workers, close plants in the United States, and move business to a country free from federal
regulations and a minimum wage requirement. It was reported
that in 1994, the net bonus (in the millions) paid to the
C.E.O. of Nike Corp. was more than the gross yearly income
of all citizens of the Asian community combined where the
manufacturing plant now operates. This figure I'm sure also
exceeds the amount paid out in unemployment checks to
American workers as a result of the operation change. It's
also reported that the workers at Nike are paid so little,
they cannot afford housing and live in a make-shift shanty
town outside the plant and many are grossly malnourished.
("Flashpoints", KPFA broadcast, May 1995.)
Nike is certainly not the only company to take jobs away
from American workers. The fact is, business executives
realize that if the same job can be done somewhere else
paying workers considerably less than the $ 4.35 per hour
minimum wage as it is here in the U.S., why not make the
move and generate a bigger profit? Most favorable is the
machine that can replace the workforce as computers do not
require a salary, benefits, workers compensation, overtime
pay, or breaks.
Whether or not you agree that corporations are at fault,
the problem of homeless people in America is growing. I
don't see how federal politicians can talk about cutting
the Welfare program when already millions of people in this
country aren't able to afford adequate housing. If current
trends continue into the next century, we will be tripping
over people who have no other alternative than to set up
camp in the middle of the street.
Propositions like M which Mayor Jordan tried to pass in San
Francisco, which would make it unlawful for any person to
lie down in the middle of the street and therefore obstruct
the flow of commerce, would be impossible to enforce. Worse
yet, we may be the ones to get tripped over by the


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