Mrs. G and I gave up cable TV a while back. So when I do watch TV, it’s mostly something I’m casting via my phone from YouTube. And the other day, the YouTube algorithm placed the following clip in my queue. It’s very moving. (Please watch up until the point where the homeless man tears up.)
My first reaction to this clip was that I know this guy. Well, not him specifically, but when I worked in uptown Charlotte, I saw a lot of fellows in the exact same predicament. Broken men, surely battling some kind of addiction, and incapable of gainful employment.
My second reaction was resentment. I’m not proud of that, but that’s what my lizard brain conjures up whenever I witness panhandling. Employed people have enough crap to deal with. Can they at least enter and leave their workplaces without being accosted for handouts? Is that asking too much?
Finally, my third reaction was compassion. The man in this clip, Ronald Davis, is absolutely right. He is, first and foremost, a human being. And it pains me to see any human being brought so low, especially a fellow American.
So how do we help the Ronald Davises of this country?
That’s the subject of this post. I’m gonna take my tremendous critical thinking skills—honed through six years of occasionally challenging higher education—and see if I can devise a better safety net. There is thus no personal finance angle to this post. So if you’d rather part ways now and not subject yourself to one of my twisted rants, I completely understand. We part friends.
But if you’re a masochist and would rather stick around…here we go.
What Isn’t the Answer
Let’s begin by stating what isn’t the answer.
For starters, blaming others isn’t the answer. Ronald Davis was brought low because he routinely made poor decisions over the course of many years. It wasn’t because his teachers didn’t care. It wasn’t because the police harassed him. And it wasn’t because the Republicans cut the safety net to the bone. Blaming innocents and calling them “privileged,” “greedy,” or “racist” may be psychologically rewarding, but it’s wrong on two fronts. It misdiagnoses the true cause of the problem (Mr. Davis’s decision-making) and it’s counterproductive. After all, how helpful was the occasional “bum” epithet hurled at Mr. Davis? Those people walking by Mr. Davis in the clip aren’t privileged, greedy, or racist; they’re human beings.
The second thing that isn’t the answer is Mr. Davis’s current “job.” Mr. Davis has a constitutional right to stand on the corner with a paper cup and beg. And the people who pass him have a constitutional right to give him money. But are begging and intermittent charity really helping matters? Sure, it’s helping a little bit if the end result is Mr. Davis spending a night in a shelter (aka flop house, as Mr. Davis calls it) and getting a hot meal. But is it helping Mr. Davis conquer his demons? Is it helping Mr. Davis become a productive member of society?
Finally, the last thing that isn’t working is our current safety net. Shelters and soup kitchens are surely a godsend. Without these services, it’s unlikely that Mr. Davis would even be alive. But beyond the occasional bed and hot meal, what else does our vast compassion infrastructure have to offer? Counseling? Job training? College? Counseling might help. But job training and college are a joke. The fact is our current safety net really isn’t equipped to deal with people as far gone as Mr. Davis.
What Might Be the Answer
Mr. Davis needs three things. He needs money. He needs an incentive to stay clean and sober. And he needs to develop the mental and physical capacity for real work. In other words, Mr. Davis needs a simple day job that pays him at the end of the day and rewards him for staying clean and sober. Here’s my proposal.
Take advantage of the shelter that Mr. Davis mentions in the clip. This will be Mr. Davis’s home and bank.
Mr. Davis’s job will be to pick up litter or garbage for eight hours a day.
At the end of each day he works, he will receive $40 in compensation. Since this will be deemed emergency employment, no Social Security or other taxes will be deducted from the compensation. And Mr. Davis will not have to file federal and state tax returns if this type of compensation is the only compensation he receives during a the year.
The $40 will not be dispensed in cash. It will be dispensed in three vouchers. A $16 voucher to pay for the shelter. A $12 voucher to pay for his meals at the shelter. And a $12 voucher to place in a savings account managed by the shelter on his behalf.
Only Mr. Davis will be allowed to redeem his vouchers. This way he can’t sell the vouchers and use the proceeds for drugs or alcohol.
Mr. Davis’s savings can only be used for his shelter-related expenses. If he ever leaves the shelter, his savings are his to use for whatever he wants.
If Mr. Davis manages to stay clean and sober for six straight months, his compensation will be increased to $50 a day. The extra $10 will be dispensed in cash.
If Mr. Davis manages to stay clean and sober for twelve straight months, his compensation will be increased to $60 a day. The extra $20 will be dispensed in cash.
If Mr. Davis ever fails a drug or alcohol test, his compensation drops back to $40 a day.
In all honesty, fixing Mr. Davis and others like him may not be feasible. Fixing broken people is hard. If it weren’t, our homeless problem would have been solved long ago.
Another thing that may not be feasible is my proposal. Who’s going to pay for it? Who’s going to administer it? A private charity? A church? The government? The legal challenges are huge. Our minimum wage laws, our Social Security laws, and our tax laws would all have to be amended. And what would happen if Mr. Davis got run over by a car picking up litter on the side of a highway? Who would be liable? And then, of course, there are the ample opportunities for fraud and abuse. The shelter’s going to manage savings accounts? A bureaucrat is going to pick people for a litter detail and then hand out cash at the end of the day? Meh.
But, then again, imagine if my proposal were instituted and administered reasonably well. Two things would surely result. Our cities would be cleaner, and the average working stiff would endure less emotional blackmail (i.e., begging) to and from work. As for Mr. Davis and others like him being able to turn their lives around? Very tough to say. The odds are still against them. What I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty is this: they’ll have a better shot under my proposal than they will under the current safety net.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. Is there any merit to my rant? Does my emergency employment proposal make any sense? What say you? I would love to hear your thoughts. Peace.