Fort Lauderdale, Florida has become the center of an aging debate when a 90-year-old World War II veteran refused to follow a new city ordinance by continuing to serve the homeless food on public property. As an in-depth article from The New York Times explains, the city of Fort Lauderdale is trying to support their local homeless population. Complaints about crowds of people and unsanitary practice led the local government to pass the ordinance. The Times claims that local businesses and chambers of commerce want the homeless to be less visible.
Therein lies the problem. For as much awareness as modern media can promote causes and drive positive impact, Americans, as a society, have a hard time facing a national identity with a homeless population. It is one thing to see a Great Depression-era photograph of men standing in a bread and soup line, but another thing to see people lining up for food at a public beach in person. Poverty too often is just a statistic or a public service announcement.
This is not an unusual occurrence. For Super Bowl XL, Detroit set up parties to move the homeless from sight. In one of the worldliest displays of Americana, society was too proud to be honest. The aim is to treat all people in the most humane way as possible, but unless there is bold recognition that there are people in the United States who go without enough to eat tonight, there will be no change. Human suffering is never easy to see, but instead of complaining there should be an increased response -- a response not only from civil institutions or non-profits, but from society as a whole.
According to The National Center for Children in Poverty, 22% of children in America live in poverty, but what does this really mean? Percentages tend to dehumanize people, and every person should be more than a statistic. Poverty is the biggest threat to a child's well-being. Citizens that interact directly with poverty like teachers, social workers, hospitals, and so on, can put a face to the numbers, but how often is it hidden from public events, vacation spots, or even public policies? Often policy that is aimed to help the poor rarely makes the news or is a talking point during election season.
By making homelessness and poverty less visible, we are dehumanizing a complete section of the population. There is no need to develop arguments for why a nation must care for the most disadvantaged because it is clear. But, the cold hard reality is that for a society to function it must invest into people. The human capacity to thrive leads to a more perfect union among all citizens. On the other hand, allowing people to simply survive leads to a dull future ignoring our failures as a people.
Public feeding may or may not be an effective way of distributing needed food, but at the same time people still arrive for the assistance. If the programs intended to help the poor were doing an adequate job, then there would be no need for someone like Arnold Abbott. The national issue is that people cannot stomach seeing others who do not have enough to fill their own. The visibility of poverty confronts a society to ignore or to solve, and only one truly eliminates it from the national identity.