Problems in Paradise

By Courtney Howell

My time in Washington, D.C. has been incredibly enjoyable thus far, especially our many adventures, including learning to work the Metro, visiting the White House, bowling in the Harry S. Truman Lanes in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and seeing many famous speakers at our morning academic sessions at the Washington Center.

However, the longer we stay here, the more something has bothered me, and today we talked about it during our small group meeting.  The academic session this morning revolved partially around gun control legislation and involved a ‘discussion’ about gun regulation.  (Discussion generally meaning multiple anecdotes about guns.)  In our small group discussion this afternoon, we discussed why legislation doesn’t focus on the larger social issues, including poverty, opportunity, and education.  The sad truth, the thing that has been bothering me, is that no one cares – poor people often don’t have the means to vote (especially with new voter ID laws), and the citizens who do vote have no incentive to speak out on behalf of the poor.   There are few lobbying groups for the poor, the mentally ill, the homeless, and quality education for poor areas, and those that do exist have limited budget and limited staff.

The conversation today reminded me of the increasingly uncomfortable feeling I get every time I walk down the streets in the capital city.  On every street corner, there are homeless people who do not have enough money to have somewhere to sleep or food to eat.  Homeless people that have no one to lobby for them, no one to petition for them, and often no way to vote (and in D.C. the representative has no vote in Congress anyway).  And yet, we are told by our parents, our teachers, our peers, and society to walk past them and ignore them.  Don’t acknowledge them when they ask for money or food.  Don’t make eye contact.  Don’t smile.  To us, they are invisible.  This, we are told, is for our own safety – if we were to give them money, we are encouraging them and they might take advantage of us.

When I walk past, all I can think is, ‘What if that was me?’  Everyone walks past you as if you don’t exist, as if you don’t deserve humane treatment.  At the end of the day, you maybe don’t have enough money to buy a full meal, even from McDonald’s.  Their lives are much different than mine.  While the weather today was wet and cold, I came to the Washington Center with food, a bed, a cell phone, a computer, and warm clothes.  Many others do not have that luxury.  I want answers.  I want to help.

But most Americans go to bed every night not thinking about those with no place to go.  Congress has no incentive to address these systemic problems.  As an average citizen, I don’t have the money, time, or resources to enact meaningful change.  Oftentimes, neither do non-profit organizations, although they certainly try.  Guess those people will just stay hungry, homeless, cold, wet, and the subject of gun violence and poor educational opportunities.  And that is extremely disheartening.

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