- Feast countdown = 22
- Craving = 25-cent buffalo wings from Georgetown's Rhino Bar
- Craving distraction = Thinking up everyone's Christmas gifts
In 2008, the Brookings Institution ran a report that found DC to be the largest "state" recipient of federal aid per capita. In 2009, more than 1 in 5 people in the district relied on food stamps. It makes sense, because DC is in the top 10 for cities with the highest rates of homelessness (National Alliance to End Homelessness).
This may be the biggest shock to my system after moving here. I've seen urban poverty in Atlanta, not to mention my time spent in Mexico, but I didn't expect the capital of the world's most powerful country to showcase such a stark wealth gap. The center of influence happens to be the picture of a broken system.
I saw a homeless man sleeping on one of the metro trains today. He had sprawled out over two seats on the front row by the doors, making it impossible to miss him, and he snored slightly when the train rocked. His things were stuffed into a couple of grocery bags at his feet. What caught my attention more than his sad state, however, was everyone's reaction around me. Maybe a slight glance when they entered the train, followed by sidestepping and complete removal from the situation. I can't say that mine was much different from the start.
I say this not to point fingers or inspire everyone to start staring at the homeless; I merely draw attention to how casually we can deal with inequity. It's jarring to see a man who has slept on the street wrapped in newspaper last night sitting a seat away from a teenage girl listening to her iPod inside her Coach purse. Their day-to-day experiences are so different, and their paths in life likely lead to completely different ends, that their proximity makes me unsettled for some reason. With these two classes rubbing shoulders every day, I can only imagine how painful a reminder it is to the have-nots that they can't have more.
If the goal is to give every person a fighting chance, we've got a lot of work to do in this city. I want DC to set the standard of not only supporting people where they are, but also lifting them up to a better life. That's the real challenge. Kids need to see that the people in their community who do well are those who work hard and take education seriously. We need more evidence of the American dream in the poorest neighborhoods. We can't afford to treat that casually.
Soap box over. It's time I find a way to give back to my new home. I'm open to any suggestions...