Many among us get together with relatives for the holidays. My wife and I are no exception. It usually means that during and between food courses we delve into current events. One of our recent guests, during a conversation about homelessness, commented that those tents full of people near the ARCHES building in downtown Salem should just get a job because there are plenty of jobs available.

I doubt that what he believes is generally true or true even in a few cases. However, I’ve not gone there to interview the people camping out in the cold to find out whether what he said is true so I did poorly at arguing a case for the possible causes and conditions that may have taken them to that place. For me, the thought of even one night in the street, sleeping without a roof overhead, seems inconceivable.

What I’m inclined to believe is that the majority of these homeless folks actually have arrived by loss of a job or inability to pay the rent which have turned individual lives, and the lives of whole families, upside down. A recent issue of the Keizertimes noted that individuals and families in our community are paying a huge percentage of their incomes to rent an apartment, resulting, presumably, in placing them close to, or into, joining the homeless ranks.

Our country has a homeless population that’s easily in the many millions and growing, exponentially, even though we hear reports—loudly spoken almost daily by the president—where he tries to lead us to believe that all’s well in America. Nevertheless, we should recognize how serious things have gotten and how close to events of civil disorder things could quickly go. Meanwhile, anyone taking a long and hard look at the homeless problem here knows we could do a lot better and that we should now and hereafter stop placing all the blame for homelessness on the homeless themselves.

Other nations are doing considerably better at dealing with their citizens in homelessness. A great deal of it has to do with the American attitude that views each individual as an independent entity. One who is free and strong enough to make his own way in America, succeeding if he tries and triumphing over adversity when anything gets in his way. This kind of thinking has its origins in Horatio Alger, Daniel Boone and other folk heroes where the American stands tall, wrestles bears and can, by hard work, determination, courage and honesty, succeed his way through the slings and arrows of life.

Real life presents a lot of obstacles to the otherwise idealized American. Fact is, some of us are born to someone who didn’t want a child or couldn’t afford a child, or take no interest in the child, or leave the child to raise himself, or never provide guidance beyond corporal punishment. Then there are those who suffer chronic illness or who are compromised through sight, hearing and other physical limitations. The range of possible negatives go on and on and on. 

We desperately need to develop attitudes of compassion and understanding along with plans of action to deal directly and effectively with the millions of Americans who need a lot more than a curse and condemnation when they’re down. They who need help to overcome barriers to success or they simply don’t make it in modern day America. We could make inroads toward success at improving the plight of the many in suffering bad times if, for one means of dealing with the problem, we’d require of our legislators that they reform our tax structure so that the one percent of our citizens with more than 95 percent of the nation’s wealth, share it. It would seem high time that we demand of our leadership that they act now, and act decisively.