November 27, 2013
Vol: 27 No: 48

Dr. Wes

Feasts and abundance would be more gratifying if the thanks were not all piled up in the wrong place

by: Dr. Wes Browning

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Eight years ago I talked about how I hated Thanksgiving. I still hate Thanksgiving.

It’s not the turkey-eating I hate. It’s the idea that I should be thankful for the privilege of personally gorging myself. It’s the idea that the thanking doesn’t go everywhere it belongs. How many Thanksgiving-thanks thank the Native Americans who saved the pilgrims from starvation? How many of you thank the cranberry pickers and the corn huskers and the, uh, potato hunters?

You probably didn’t even know that potatoes don’t grow on trees. They live in burrows in the ground and have to be flushed out by trained terriers. Time to thank the potato terriers. Then, thank the potatoes for letting themselves be mashed and gravied upon for your sick pleasure.

What about the people who either don’t get a Thanksgiving dinner, or those who barely eat the rest of the year? How grateful can I be for my terrific meal if the grace that privileged me didn’t grace them?

HUD has reported that 15 percent of Americans are living in poverty now. While overall homelessness may be down (it’s hard to tell given the methods used to count), in one sector of the population the numbers are way up: students.

Since the recession started five years ago the number of homeless kids in public schools has risen 72 percent. The number rose 10 percent just last year. There’s also been more than an 8 percent increase this past year in the number of college students who are homeless and applying for federal aid.

So while we’re enjoying our turkey and corn and stuffing ourselves with stuffing and being so thankful for our great good fortune, hundreds of thousands of school-age kids and thousands of college kids are likely having an extra can of cold ravioli and thankful the car windows roll up all the way to keep the cold out, if mom and dad are lucky enough to have hung on to the car. 

When I was a homeless college student, homeland security was not a thing. We had civil defense instead, and all we cared was that the Russkies not drop H-bombs on us. Schools left the campus buildings open all night long for me to sleep in. Now, all the buildings have to be locked or some terrorist could blow them up overnight. So I have no clue where homeless college kids sleep these days.

Meanwhile, there are people in this country, well-off people, who could use a financial downturn or two to teach them perspective and a little humility.

There are those who have so much money invested in real estate they get giddy every time property prices and rents nudge up.

Thanksgiving is a time of year that such people might especially want to thank the god of Real Estate for fattening their assets and making their lives so bountiful.

The problem with all that is while there was a reported downturn in homelessness last year, the real estate market saw significant price increases.

Los Angeles was a particular disaster last year. Booming rents in the LA area led to a one-year increase in homelessness of 27 percent.

Seattle is all set to follow that trend. Rents are going up steeply all across the city. If you are a fat-cat real estate developer, happy times are on their way. Help yourself to a bird the size of a house, but please don’t do it where I can see you.

It would not be quite so unbearable if the real estate developers didn’t complain so much about the homeless people around them, spoiling the scenery. If they would just recognize that their means of acquiring wealth led to homelessness as one of its consequences and if they would say at least once a year, “Thank you, peons, for vacating my housing units so that I can move in wealthier tenants and line my pockets with more money.”

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