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Tuesday, 12 March 2013 08:59

No Fun at All: Homeless in Berkeley and Poor in Jakarta

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My friend Gordon Lau works for a charitable foundation in Jakarta that tries to help the poorest of the poor -- and so he decided to see exactly what his clients are going through by being "Poor for a Day" himself.

I wanna be poor for a day too -- and have just been given the perfect opportunity to do so.  My housing co-op is being re-habbed and I have to be out of my apartment for three weeks while they do everything to it except install a new chimney for Santa Claus to come down.

Fifteen years ago, I started fighting like a tiger to get my co-op re-habbed because it was falling apart -- but its board of directors kept balking or even actively fighting the idea, getting so sick of me that they even threatened poor sweet me with eviction and jail if I didn't shut up. 

However, some broad members finally had a change of heart and others retired, and we actually finally started getting re-hab plans made -- but even then it took us an additional five years to get the re-hab finally under way. 

And now that it's here and actually happening?  I think I've created a monster!  

Almost everything on the property must go, from shingles to roofing to flooring to kitchen sinks.  The whole place has been in complete chaos for months. 

Around forty units have been re-habbed already -- and now it's my turn to put up or shut up as my own unit goes through a complete wash-rise-and-dry cycle.  But although the co-op is giving me a per diem to stay somewhere else for three weeks, if I can somehow scrounge by for less than the per diem, I'll have extra money for food and/or for getting a root canal (you gotta be a member of Congress or live on Wall Street to receive federally-funded dental care these days -- so most of the rest of us are either going to have to work three jobs, win the lottery or go toothless.  But I digress).

So in the interest of not going hungry and good dental hygiene, I decided to follow Gordon Lau's Jakarta example and go "Poor for a Day" too.

Let's see.  First I can follow a rising trend here in Berkeley and camp out on the front steps of that abandoned building next door.  That won't cost me anything.  However, the current policy there seems to be, "Bring your own mattress". 

Now where can I get a good meal for less than a dollar?  St. Paul's AME church does a free lunch on Tuesdays.  I'm in.

The rest of the day I can spend at the public library, using its computer and reading murder mysteries in the back room.  Then what about dinner?  You know that Chez Panisse caught on fire recently?  Maybe they would be having a fire sale?  I could always swing by and see. 

And then there is always dumpster-diving.  Oh, and the Sweet Adeline bakery might have some leftover chocolate cream pie at the end of the day?  Wistful thinking.  There's never gonna be any left over.  That stuff sells fast!

The South Berkeley farmers market is held on Tuesdays too.  I could see what they have for cheap at the end of the day.  Or up on Telegraph, at People's Park, don't they still have a soup kitchen at night?  Or the Berkeley Bowl is having a big sale on Brown Cow yogurt.  I could do that.

Then back to the abandoned building for the night -- or perhaps I could get a more scenic view by sheltering in place up in Tilden Park?  And still have fifty cents left in my pocket at the end of the day.  I could do this.  Once.  But every single day?  No, no, no and no!  I truly don't see how genuinely homeless people can do it.

"But what if it rains, Jane?" you might ask.  "Or what if you get mugged, raped or killed?"  Oh well.  Just one less poor person and one less senior citizen on Social Security for the RepubliDems to look down their noses at and/or rob.  No wonder Congress is helping seniors die off so fast -- less Social Security to pay out, so more money for Wall Street and War Street!

What makes us human?  Capitalists say that it is our ability to produce profit -- at any cost.  However, Jesus, the Buddha and Mohammed all agree that it is only compassion for others who are weaker than us that gives us our humanity and raises us up above the rest of the beasts.

(Photo: Courtesy of Jane Stillwater)