SINN: Homelessness, hunger alive in America

On the street corners of Grand Haven’s busiest main drag, Beacon Boulevard, it is common to witness one of America’s seriously unhandled social and economic problems: the needs of people living near or beneath the poverty line.
Sep 24, 2013


It seems almost as easy to dismiss these people as beggars, bums and flat-out lazy people.

That is exactly what I have decided against doing — labeling or stereotyping those whose lives I can’t imagine living, and whose circumstances I don’t understand. I should not even have the right to do so.

Driving throughout the Tri-Cities area this summer, I have seen more sign bearers asking for money donations than ever before.

Families are the fastest growing homeless population at 35 percent. The trend among the people in our area with signs asking for help is that they claim to need it to support their families, specifically their children. One in four children in American currently live under the poverty line.

Even in Spring Lake, whose public school district is among the top 1 percent in the nation and in the top 10 in the state, this factor rears its ugly head in the form of these families’ supposed predicaments.

The presence of visibly needy people in the Grand Haven area has not seemed to shift our culture, or cue an equally visible response. It appears as a sore thumb; whereas, in large cities, this exhibited force of poverty can be diagnosed as a serious, threatening problem, reflected accurately by cities such as Detroit’s economic woes.

Last fall, I witnessed the Detroit Tigers battle the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit. Perhaps the greatest impression I left town with that night, after a victorious game 3 in the series, was the sense that amidst the crowds of fanatics roaming and raving through the streets, perhaps the most activated were the people who live there — the struggling poor and the homeless.

Men played old brass horns and guitars; at their feet were opened instrument cases filled with shallow earnings of pennies, nickels and crumpled $1 bills. Others, many of them sick or crippled, offered empty coffee cans and pleaded baseball fans that, in their generally drunken stupor and ecstasy, tended to ignore the city’s most downtrodden inhabitants.

It is otherworldly to walk through that environment and experience such a rift in our society. The New York Yankees are currently valued at $2.3 billion, and that drives thousands of fans to empty their own wallets and watch the Tigers’ rival go down — while outside the walls, beyond the lights, people scrape quarters out of the gutters.

That image has left a difficult impression on me, and one that I have carried back to my hometown.

Grand Haven and Detroit are about as far apart demographically as two places can get. But the reality of joblessness, homelessness and the basin of poverty in America is punctuated at either end of our state with point-blank visibility.

The stereotype is “beg.” As I try to empathize, a word I find more appropriate is “strive.” These are people in desperation who and are living day to day in survival mode.

I find that the signs help, rather than hinder, my ability to see the sweeping scale of poverty in America, in spite of our community’s reluctance to treat its symptom with little more than pity.

The U.S. poverty rate is currently over 15 percent. Minorities, children and families are the most affected, but all walks of life, including seniors and veterans, are increasingly being trapped beneath this banner. Transversely, the United States is among the most affluent countries in the world.

Does the prescription entail higher wages and lower housing and health care costs? Does relief ultimately rest in federal and state programs? I don’t doubt there are solutions at that level, but it begins with acknowledging that not everyone on the street or living below a living wage deserves mockery and shame. It starts on a personal level.

If we can at least change how we view the hungry and the homeless — not just those living in the extreme, but even those nearer to us — if we reorient ourselves beyond institutions, we can fix these problems.

— By Alexander Sinn, Tribune community columnist



The number of homeless students in America topped one million for the first time last year as a result of the economic recession, a number that has risen 57 percent since 2007.

Michigan was in the top five states that experienced the greatest percentage of homelessness - the states that reported the largest year-to-year increases in the June report were Kentucky at 47 percent, Utah at 47 percent, Michigan at 38 percent, West Virginia at 38 percent and Mississippi at 35 percent. In Michigan, where unemployment is above the national average, every county reported an increase in the number of homeless students.


With our increase in homelessness has been proportional to our robotic technical automation leaps. The same technology that helps us also is the same technology that will ruin us. Grand Haven's largest manufacturer on Hayes street. Almost all becoming robotic. That means no jobs for you, me or our graduates - but big pay for CEO. I'm not looking down on the homeless - because the next robot purchased by the corporation will replace me and the guy I work next to. Then what? Retrain? Ya right! Pharmacists can be replaced with wireless robotic dispensers by your doctor. Become a teacher? Ya right! All teachers can be replaced with kiosks and distance learning and Professor DVD. Fireman will also be replaced with wireless machines. A Teller? Thats automated now. A meat cutter? Thats automated now. A computer technician? Thats all plug and play with interchangeable modules now. A coal miner? Thats robotized. A waste water treatment technician? NOPE! That's automated. Its hopeless - were all going to replaced. A cashier? Just go to Wal-mart or Miejers and see where that career is going. Now I understand the movie Terminator. But that property tax bill just keeps coming in twice a year and going up. Or are out robots going to pay that too? Do nothing, say nothing - then go join the homeless on the highway and hold a sign


I can't help but shudder at the thought of billions spent carting around politicians for non-governing me a campaign speech or vacation is not a governing event and should be funded by the vacationer or the campaigner, those funds are better spent elsewhere.
But the biggest pain comes from seeing churches that think nothing of spending millions expanding or redecorating while in their weekly flyer proudly display a novelty check for $1500 raised for the charities...we are upside down here somewhere. We have become top down benevolent where charity and feeding the poor are last, it used to be first..."charity begins in the home" or "love your neighbor as yourself" we need to turn this ship around.


thats right folks, i have seen people on the corners asking for help, then you have tribune snapping shots of these people and put them on the front page, then you have the people commenting on the subject and saying go get a job and earn you own keep, you have a job, they dont, i would never want to be in their shoes, the homless


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