Posts Tagged ‘change’


June 9th, 2009

It’s 3:23 a.m. and I’m sitting at a Chinese restaurant across from Chad Stevens, the most intelligent man I have come across on my journey.  From behind my teacup, I can clearly see his curly hair, soft brown eyes, tall sturdy nose, and million dollar smile showcasing his two day stubble underneath the fluorescent lights.  I met this stranger only seven hours ago, but already, he feels like an old friend. Chad is an affable and soft spoken man, and has a way of putting others at ease – the type of friend that you would want to introduce to your parents.  The restaurant is getting louder, but instead of speaking up, he politely maintains his voice and leans inward.

Chad is the modern day Renaissance man – he is intelligent and handsome, well-spoken and generous to others, a sagacious scholar of current events, and educated in a plethora of different subjects.  With his level of intelligence, you’d imagine Chad as a college professor or as a D.C. lawyer.  Instead, Chad is unemployed and homeless.  When I met him in Bethesda, MD, he was trying to sell me a couple of paintings and a collection of National Geographic magazines.

About a year ago, Chad loaned money to a friend who never returned it.  Several months later, he could no longer afford to make rent payments, and was ejected from his apartment.  Since then, he has been living off of a meager income as a freelance artist by creating billboards, signs, and murals.  Despite his precarious situation, Chad retains a sense of equanimity.  “I’m just down on my luck right now,” he says.  “I’m going to work to get my P.A. soon and partner with different groups.”

Such stories are not too uncommon.  Rewind the clock two days.  It’s 9:19 p.m., and I’m walking down 7th street in Washington D.C. after finishing research at the National Archives.  To my left, lays a beggar, asking for change.  “Nickel, dime, or penny,” he says, while rattling a change cup.  I pass right by, and then after a few steps, decide to turn around.

I sit down next to him, and start up a conversation.  His name is Glen Lewis, a homeless and unemployed 56-year-old.  His weathered skin, graying hair, and missing teeth are evidence of a life of hardship.  Surprisingly, he is well-traveled, primarily from living a nomadic lifestyle for extended periods of time, at one point, living out of his car for four years.

Although Glen never graduated college because of a lack of funds, he is better educated than most other homeless I have met during my journey, and speaks out on many subjects from government to culture and society.  But he speaks out about his current predicament above all else.  Because of his age and his circumstances, he cannot land a job.  “Every time I try to get a job, I can’t get one.  You need a reference to get a job.  I don’t have insurance, and don’t have a permanent address,” he says.

Glen is extremely dejected.  He has succumbed to the fact that his situation is not going to get better and will possibly never improve.  It has now been half an hour into the conversation and I start to get a small taste of how Glen feels.  People walking by are ignoring all hails from Glen and pretending to not hear anything when I greet them from the seated position.  Simply by associating with a beggar, I have been shunned and immediately relegated as a pariah of society.  Glen looks up at the people who ignore us and then angrily says, “They got so much to choose from, they are so greedy… they would throw it away and waste it instead of giving to those in need.”

Glen’s right.  The sad truth is that no one gives a damn.  The lost have absolutely no cause worth fighting for, simply because there is no reciprocation.  A homeless man can never pay back what is given to him.  Glen chuckles for a moment and then recomposes himself when I tell him that I want to share his story with the world.  “You are wasting your time.  A 40-year-old isn’t going to change the way he ties his shoes.  He’s tied it the same way his entire life.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2005, nearly one out of every five people D.C. residents – or 104,000 – lived at or below the poverty line.  Glen and Chad aren’t alone in their struggle.  A study done by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in 2006 shows that their story is reminiscent of the plight shared by nearly 2,000 of the chronic homeless in the nation’s capitol.  In the stronghold of the most powerful and influential country in the world, one has to ponder how the government can turn a blind eye to such a vast amount of people.

Perhaps the greatest paradox that exists in America today is the one where beggars are just a walk away from a supermarket with an overabundance of food – a chilling testament to the most socioeconomically divided country in the world.  This paradox highlights the very root of the problem that the current system has failed to solve: hopelessness.  Instead, it has focused on the short-term solution of building shelters to feed and clothe the homeless, a solution that sees the homeless person thrown back into the lion’s den after a night of rest to be devoured by the streets.  For Glen, the solution is simple: “I would have a special shelter, where there would be a special network to help men out … hook up with companies to get guys on their feet.”

Hope for systematic change – change that was promised from the advent of the Obama administration, seems to be fading in the background.  Until people are willing to actively talk and discuss the issue and venerate the lost as human beings and not animals, it will forever plague our generation and those to come.  For now, Chad and Glen must do their best to get by another day.



March 30th, 2009

A couple days ago, I hitchhiked after the tendons in my shin were about to buckle.  The fourth car that passed my way picked me up.  The man and woman in the car were well traveled and were of refined character.  It was a singular experience, that split second decision to ride with complete strangers – the moment in which my heart stopped and my mind blanked, where the visceral led me – and it was the ride of my life.

There are those who decide to abandon picking up hitchhikers because it can be quite perilous.  The person or persons that decide to do this assume the dangers of theft, rape, and murder.  One that is able to do such is both bold and altruistic.  The well-being of another stands above his own safety and comfort.  I would analogize it, to a lesser extent, to saving a person from a burning building.  It is during times like these that the benevolence and goodwill of humanity are shown, where man’s character will be judged, dissected, and forever be emblazoned across time. America’s pastime seems very much alive, even if the murderers and rapists have ruined the once glorious image.

My faith in humanity has been restored.  I believe it is still possible for system wide change, and that history will not repeat itself as long as there are those who are willing to defiantly step out and evoke this change.  I’ll leave you with an aphorism from C.S. Lewis:

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.