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Pat LaMarche Headshot

The Christmas Shoes

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Nothing says Merry Christmas like approving billions of dollars worth of military expenditures. Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $633.3 billion defense budget. I must say I wasn't in the mood to celebrate with them. So instead, I gave away my shoes. The striking difference between the congresspersons who approved the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and me is that they'll sleep fine tonight having allocated money for destruction and I'll toss and turn worrying about people whose lives have been destroyed.

First of all let me explain what happened with the shoes. No, I didn't give them to a homeless girl. Heck, she hasn't been homeless in years. Her little family -- after three years living in shelters -- has had their own place for about two years now. There was a neat little program paid for with federal dollars that provided them housing assistance and they were able to get a real home.

We need to give this girl a name -- let's call her Mary after that homeless lady everybody talks about this time of year. You know she's the one who had to have a baby in a cave or a barn or whatever.

Anyway, I used the language, "there was a neat little program paid for with federal dollars," because the program that gave Mary a home was eliminated in her case. There simply wasn't enough money in the state where Mary lives for her state to kick in their share. Now don't you worry that Mary's going to be homeless again. See her dad died this year, and now she and her mom can live on his Social Security death benefit. Yep, these things just have a way of working themselves out.

But let's get back to the shoes. A couple of days ago I'd asked Mary what she might like for Christmas. She said that she "couldn't think of anything." I asked what her mom would like. Mary said that her mom "hadn't mentioned anything" either. If you have a 13-year-old person in your life then I'm sure you're pretty shocked to read a set of responses like that. But one thing you learn from homeless kids is that their expectations are pretty low and their humiliation is pretty great. So they don't ask for much -- or in Mary's case -- anything.

When I saw Mary today I had on my brand new sneakers that my sister had gotten for me. Mary's eyes lit up at the hand painted shoes and she blurted, "Those have to be the greatest pair of Chuck Taylors I've ever seen in my life." While driving her home I took off my shoes and put them in her lap. Mary hugged them. Then she hugged me. I drove home in my stocking feet thinking about the million or so homeless school kids identified this year by the U.S. Department of Education. Then I went on line to read the day's news and saw this story about the $633.3 billion for the military. That's when I started wondering how the members of congress can sleep at night.

I quickly figured that at the going rate of $55 per pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, the U.S. military budget would buy more than 11 billion pairs of the shoes. But that's too absurd a comparison. The military can't be held accountable for spending money on tanks and then comparing those expenditures to basketball sneakers. I mean that's one and a half pairs of shoes for every man woman and child on the planet! No, the military largess needs to be compared to big ticket items. So instead I thought I'd determine how much housing we American taxpayers could buy for $633.3 billion. This is a little like comparing apples and oranges because the military budget is annual and recent housing investments spanned several years.

Still, the best indicator of future behavior is past results. And back in the days of the of the 2009 stimulus program -- as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- Congress approved $1.5 billion dollars for Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing (HPRP). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website says that in its first year HPRP served 700,000 people. That means that in the course of the program about $800 was spent per person to save their dwelling or procure a new home during the greatest economic crisis in nearly a hundred years.

Eight hundred dollars per person? Heck that's only like 15 pairs of Chuck Taylors each! Imagine if our well slept congress had stayed up even a few nights worrying about little girls like Mary.