home sweet home

The other day I watched a man with a long white beard in a worn suit walk across the street with the help of a cane, while I waited at the signal in my car. He walked so slowly I wasn’t sure he would make it across the street before the traffic light changed. Then I saw his shoes. They were at least two sizes too big. There was an inch of space between his heel and the back of the shoe. No wonder he walked slowly.

While I have nothing but his appearance to go on, my guess is that he is among the many homeless in America.

According to an April 2010 report by the National Alliance to End Homeless:

There is some troubling evidence that homelessness is beginning to increase among elderly adults. In addition, there are demographic factors — such as the anticipated growth of the elderly population as baby boomers turn 65 years of age and recent reports of increases in the number of homeless adults ages 50 to 64—that suggest a dramatic increase in the elderly homeless population between 2010 and 2020. While the country’s changing demographics may make this finding unsurprising, it has serious implications for providers of homeless services and should be deeply troubling to the policymakers that aim to prevent poverty and homelessness among the elderly through local and federal social welfare programs.

That report uses the term “sheltered homeless” as a reminder that sleeping outdoors on park benches or in a doorway is not the only criterion for labeling someone as homeless. In the summertime in Arlington, Virginia, volunteers in the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) Homeless Bagged Meal Program (I am one of them) prepare more bagged meals to serve in the evening at the two sites than they do in the winter. In the winter, more homeless persons find shelter for the night in buildings, not vehicles, getting their meals indoors.

As a child, I remember using the term “bum” to describe someone who looked like the man I watched cross the street. The stereotype then was that anyone who was homeless was either lazy, running away from something, or an alcoholic or worse – that the condition of homelessness was the result of poor choices by the individual. “They” brought it on themselves. Some may still choose to believe that stereotype, but the evidence indicates that there are single men, single women, children and families who live in their vehicles, in shelters, in public restrooms, or wherever they find protection from the elements and and other hazards. Now it is hard not to acknowledge that the primary cause of homelessness, poverty, can result from many different situations, most entirely out of the hands of those who end up without a home. Loss of a job, loss of a life partner, a serious medical condition – each of these can result in depletion of one’s life’s savings, then the loss of a home.

I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself other than firmly in the middle class. I’ll never be rich, if the measure of richness is solely money. And I will always consider the homeless person on the side of the road as my neighbor. We share the same space even if we don’t share the same circumstances.

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talking about my generation

That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.

~Adlai Stevenson

One of the bright spots in getting older is realizing that there are youngsters out there with the same dreams and aspirations that motivated me when I was that age.  I do have to admit that I occasionally hear words coming out of my mouth about the younger generation that sound like echoes of complaints I heard from my parents or grandparents: statements like, “the younger generation doesn’t know what it’s like to have to work,” or “young people these days just don’t have any manners (or common sense, or appreciation for what their parents have sacrificed – pick one).”

But now and then a member of the younger generation appears who seems to have already acquired the wisdom that I give credit to the more than sixty years of living I needed.  And that’s why it was such a pleasure for me to meet Matthew Burton last week.

Matthew has an intriguing idea that I would love to see made real.  Given his age and his background, it’s also a given that Matthew blogs.  The theme for his blog is “Using the Web to help national security, government, and democracy.”  He has a few years of experience working directly for the federal government, but because his skills are in the technology arena, he recognized pretty quickly that innovation isn’t the federal government’s strong suit.  But he’d like to change that.

Matthew’s idea is to create a Peace Corps for software developers that would bring talented technical folks, well versed in bleeding edge tools, into the government for a fixed period of time where they could learn from the inside what needs to be done and build better tools.  For the two years, the developers would be employees, not contractors working to complete specifications to fulfill contracts written more than a year earlier against requirements that were gathered even before that time, in a cycle that seems guaranteed to produce an overpriced product that no one needs any more because the available technology changed in the meantime.  At the end of the two years, the Developer Peace Corps members would return to the private sector where they could reintegrate into bleeding edge opportunities.  And the government would bring in a new group with even more bleeding edge experience.

Now I’m a contractor myself, so you might think I should be wary of a program that would move IT development away from the contracting/procurement model and back into the government.  But I like Matthew’s idea and I hope it grows legs.

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible – and achieve it, generation after generation.

~ Pearl S. Buck

For more about Matthew’s Peace Corps for Developers idea, see his blog entry.
For more about Matthew’s Speechology project (User-powered analysis of political debates, speeches and campaign ads), check out this link.