Sunday, June 8, 2014


I live in the southern part of the Space Coast known locally as Brevard County in the city known as Melbourne, Florida.  Since this area was built on the back of the Space Program in the fifties, it is now a hard hit area job wise.   A few years back the city began renovation of the downtown area and created a newly trendy area which also housed a long hated soup kitchen known as Daily Bread.  Years ago Daily Bread moved to just outside the downtown area as requested by the city.  However, due to the recent jewel-in-the-crown status of the area along with downward economic developments, Daily Bread has endured heightened  animosity. 

I frequently encounter panhandlers downtown. I have seen some frustration from the homeless, but not the aggression reported by angry, frustrated shopkeepers and neighbors. That may be because I have no negative expectations and actually take the time to talk to them like any other person.

As someone who is occasionally mistaken for the homeless, I can tell you that it is a very demeaning experience. I've had people act like I was going to attack them, avoid speaking or turn their back on me, slam car doors in my face, etc.   When I introduce myself to neighbors I've yet to meet,  I commonly hear very hateful descriptions of “those people,” meaning the people who go to Daily Bread.  Since I receive services from Daily Bread I find it personally demeaning.  When others outside the area hear such negativity, it tends to program them to anticipate any homeless encounter in a fearful and negative way. When that happens and the housed encounter an individual who has reached their limit on loss and pain, indifference to their suffering, projected anger and annoyance is likely to elicit a similar response.

The homeless in our area are part of our community and in most ways very like the individuals who are supported or helped out by various friends or relatives. The main difference being that these people do not have anyone to help them out. I view them in the same way as I would anyone who has just suffered a major life loss. Under such circumstances, some people are going to be distraught, and some are angry and feel as if no one cares about them. It would be bad enough to endure such hardship, but it is demeaning to have your mere presence viewed as, “Things would be fine if you just weren't here.” When you view someone in this way, you demean not only them but also yourself.

If the City and the people of Melbourne are really serious about resolving the homeless issues, then I suggest they revisit local efforts to provide expanded services to the homeless. Daily Bread operates on extremely limited hours, providing hungry people a mere one meal a day. That, plus refusal to allow adequate expansion and extremely limited use of both showers and toilets at their site and throughout the area has significantly contributed to sanitation problems. Like anyone else they'd like to use standard facilities, but if we as a society have refused to provide sanitation, then why are we pointing the finger at them? Lack of emergency shelter has also contributed to the issues. I once met an emotionally distraught man, just released from the hospital for being beaten. He was extremely upset by the fact that he had to spend yet another night vulnerable and without shelter. People seldom stop to consider how dangerous it is to sleep without any protection at all. Can you imagine what it is like to be released from the hospital to go home and go to bed....but instead you have to cower somewhere and hope you make it through the night? The issue is less that homeless people in our area are the problem, but rather that there seems no unified effort on the part of our citizens or city to resolve these issues and come up with answers. Instead the onus is always on anger and blocking actions that could help resolve the problems of homelessness. It's very telling that those of us who have actually engaged the homeless with respect and compassion see them as just people who have lost everything, are hurting and desperate.  Now, to top it all, many people hate them just because they have no home. Florida is #1 in hate crimes towards the homeless.  Twice as many people are killed here in the name of homelessnes; twice as many in the #2 state California.  There is a direct correlation between an increase in hate crimes and the number of homeless specific laws. As long as prejudice towards the homeless is considered justified you are going to have people reacting to your low opinion of their severe need and the problems will escalate. Our community needs to look inward and ask not “How can we get rid of these people?” but “How can we resolve the problems that the homeless are facing today?” In areas united on progress in this arena, where the homeless are seen as worthy of help, eliminating homelessness has proven not only viable, but a money saving option. Once that happens the homeless will no longer be an issue.  

Todays Lesson:  "The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it."  Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
copyright Linda Matthews 6/8/2014

Monday, June 2, 2014


Over and over I hear the anguished cries of  how society should have stopped Elliot Rodger and how this can never happen again. Apparently society seems to think that the answer is to stop or catch such people before they can act or buy a gun. So I am deeply disturbed that no one is considering that the only real way to stop people like Elliot is to prevent such hatred from forming in the first place.

Except for two people (including the family lawyer who described Elliot as the loneliest person and a single young man who actually tried to reach out to him), no one else has mentioned the pain Elliot described as long endured“torture,” nor that Elliot has said he didn't even know why he was rejected the way he was, nor that Elliot apparently lived a life of extreme emotional isolation and disconnect.

In today's electronic society, where people seemingly cannot survive for even one moment without being connected to each other, it seems to me that the consequences of not being able to connect on a personal level would have profound psychological consequences. Being and having connections with other people is so important to the human race, that in some societies being able to withdraw into a long period of solitude while being at peace with it is considered a sign of supreme self mastery and spiritual development. Tom Hanks gave us a taste of extreme isolation in Castaway. He became hysterical and distraught when he lost Wilson, a soccer ball with a face on it...the closest thing he had for a companion. Most people would be hard pressed to be alone for a week, let alone a lifetime. Yet, from what we know, it would seem that Elliot endured a lifetime of disconnect from, well, apparently everybody.

Welcome to the world of the excluded, the dismissed, the odd, the presumed unworthy. There is a wealth of people on this planet that could stand for the terms: Misunderstood, Prejudged and Excluded. Many ethnic/racial groups: the most recent being the Muslims, but let's not forget the blacks, the Mexicans, the Jews, the Japanese in WWII, etc. The many social classes: a current favorite, the homeless, followed by anyone on government assistance, the illegals, the gays, etc. The many disordered: the scarred, the physically dysfunctional, the developmentally delayed, the mentally ill, etc. As someone who fits some of these categories, frankly I'm tired of the demeaning comments, dismissed with “Oh, well, I don't mean you.” Yes! Yes, you do! When the American public so cavalierly comments on a group as a whole, then that comment applies to everyone in that category. As an aspie, I've never had anywhere near the level of isolation and exclusion that Elliot had, but I've experienced enough of it that I can understand why he would think so little of his contemporaries. This does not mean that I condone violence by Elliot or anyone. What it does mean is that I think I understand why it happened.

Being included and being viewed as a wanted and valuable member of society is so important to us as a people that when this does not happen one of three things occurs. You just accept as best you can that you are going to have a life of less: less love, less respect, less communication, less of the normal things that others, even the most obnoxious idiot or cruelest being will likely have, OR you turn your angst inward and live a life of despair. If you can't take it, you off yourself.  Suddenly everyone mourns your lost life and a lot of people feel responsible because no one should have to live such a lonely disregarded life. OR lastly, you don't turn it inward. Instead you look at how people are treating you and each other: the judgment, the lies that society makes about people that they don't really know but presume to call facts, and the disregard for people based on total lack of knowledge, caring and the lack of insight that others are also feeling, hurting individuals. Some take that and at some point they become so deeply broken and twisted that no matter what else happens or who approaches, they are unlikely to recover. Instead their life plays out in an even larger tragedy. Only this time it is all about how society has been wronged and society is quick to deny any responsibility for what has happened. But if you have ever purposely ignored, snubbed, looked past or in anyway excluded someone then you have contributed to a deep hurt that many in society feel. And while you may think that what you did was insignificant or somehow justified, those affected will tell you that you have inflicted deep wounds, wounds that may fester and turn into something very ugly. When something like that grows it must be excised lest it kill the individual and any surgeon will tell you that surgery takes aggressive way or another.

In the early seventies a third grade public school teacher devised a remarkable plan known as the Blue Eyed/ Brown Eyed Exercise. In this experiment designed to help her students relate to racism, Jane Elliot first told the students that those who were blue eyed were superior. They were put at the head of the class and given rewards. Soon they began the demeaning behaviors associated with “superiority.”  In a single day the Superiors' work improved while the Inferiors' diminished.   At the next class she informed them that she had made a mistake and that it was the brown eyed individuals who were superior and their roles were reversed. Afterwards she assigned the class the task of writing about what they had learned from the experience. As publicity of this experiment grew, the oft quoted line became, “How dare you conduct such a cruel experiment on white children.”

Yet what many in the past saw as cruel, still remains a mainstay for many individuals, and far too many in society think nothing of it.

Lately I've seen numerous examples where someone intervened to stop the pain. An adult or a child would come forward and explain to a classroom or group, either their or another child's pain in reaction to such exclusion and prejudice.  Then magic happened. From then on there would be people who included that child. From then on that child would have friends. In some cases the formerly neglected child would have a friend for life or the whole school would rally round him or her. Then that child would blossom and live the fulfillment of its life that formerly would never have been possible. The sad thing is that when this happens it's so rare and remarkable that it makes the news.

So I can't help but wonder, what if that had happened to Elliot? What if early on people had included him and helped him to feel that he belonged?  We shall never know what the outcome might have been.  Whether or not such a thing might have helped Elliot, I do feel certain that it would have a profoundly positive effect on the lives of many individuals, and their contemporaries, especially if such things began to happen on a wider scale.

And while I  mostly write about the homeless and poverty stricken, it is all the same thing. My work is really about people who are hurting, people who society demeans, and makes up stories about how and why so many are “worthless” or “scum” or somehow less human, somehow less valuable, somehow less worthy of even your consideration. The world is full of individuals who are hurting and often ignored. When people say “I never even looked at him,” or “I didn't do anything!” well, that's the problem. It's accepted practice in America to find someone different and define him in a lesser light so that we might feel superior as individuals or right in our actions. When we do this by passive means, it's known as passive-aggression, and it absolutely has the same psychological effect as bullying. Yet if bullying is unacceptable, then why is shunning still okay to do? Because in the grand scheme of things, in it's total impact on the individual, ergo that individual's response to it, it IS the same thing. Since passive-aggressive behavior IS a form of aggression we as a society need to recognize that inherent in aggression is the possibility that the recipient may eventually respond in kind.

Until we begin to look at and question our own thoughts, until we consider how our apathy, our lack of concern and our denial of our profound ability to judge and make up stories about others, along with the arrogance that comes with denial of culpability, things will not change.  The result will be people who are crushed by the shadow side of American society, who will become broken or twisted and who will respond in dire and unpredictable ways. It's a sad thing to say, but true, that when an individual or group responds with aggression that they are acting more like us than we want to believe.

Believe it.

As a society we need to consider how our neglect affects others, especially now because times are changing and negative events are growing for both our planet and its inhabitants. More and more people are angry and unhappy and looking for someone to play the part of the scapegoat. It is an atmosphere ripe for similar developments...on BOTH sides of the aisle.

So please, begin to look inward and scrutinize your thoughts and  beliefs about others.  If it is true, how do you actually know so? Pay attention to things outside your own head. Simply smile at someone or say hello. Go to someone's aid. Be kind. Be aware. Be proactive. Do it for them, do it for you, do it for your kids, do it to help ensure a healthy future for everyone. Do it for whatever reason you like, but just do it or begin to try to do it. It is so important for all of us. And necessary. It is absolutely necessary.

Todays Lesson:  "A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal."  Steve Maraboli

copyright Linda Matthews 6/2/2014

Monday, May 26, 2014


  1. YOU NOW OWE A FINE. If you missed the deadline for open enrollment you can no longer apply for discounted healthcare. Ergo, when you go to pay this years taxes you will be hit with a fine equaling a minimum of $95 or 1% of your income, whichever is greater.
  2. YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR AN EXEMPTION FROM THIS FINE. Exemptions include financial hardships such as homelessness, disasters, having your utilities cut off, etc. OR if you were determined ineligible for healthcare assistance because your state did not expand medicaid coverage to include the Affordable Care Act. Half the states in America did not approve Medicaid expansion.
  3. YOU MUST APPLY FOR AN EXEMPTION. There are currently no automatic exemptions from this fine. Contact the resources listed in this article asap as you may only have a limited time to apply.
  4. THE UNEMPLOYED/HOMELESS NEED NOT APPLY. Unless you have conditions that already qualify you for your states medicaid program (such as disability, elderly, children) you are not eligible for government insurance coverage.
  5. TAX REBATES SHOULD HELP PAY FOR YOUR INSURANCE. This seems to be a little known fact that has escaped the notice of even those who were paying attention.  Despite the fact that many states denied medicaid expansion, you are still eligible for “premium tax rebates” that can cover all or part of your healthcare costs.  If your income is up to 4X the poverty level ($10,150 for a single person, less per person for families) you are eligible for assistance.  These rebates can be applied directly to your monthly payments or you can pay the full cost and recoup your losses at the end of the year when you pay your taxes. If your income should increase during the year (and the government pays more in rebates than it should have) then you will likely owe the difference when you pay your taxes. If you do not make enough money to pay taxes, but you have some kind of income, no matter how small, you are still eligible for rebates.
  6. PRICES VARY. The percentage you are expected to pay is dependent upon two things. One is your income and the other is based upon the lowest priced silver plan available in your area. Even so you may opt to choose a higher or lower priced plan, whereby you will pay more or less accordingly. Some plans may be available to you for free, but in some cases such plans may be less desirable catastrophic plans that only kick in only after you have paid significant medical bills. Still, such a plan could come in very handy in case of a true and costly  medical emergency.
  7. YOU MAY NEED A HEALTHCARE NEGOTIATOR. The ACA is complex with many and varied rules. While one can apply online at, you may be better served by a healthcare Negotiator . Look online for one near you.
  8. YOU CAN APPLY AGAIN THIS FALL. Open Enrollment begins on November 15th and runs through February 15th 2015 for the general public. However, enrollment in medicaid for the elderly and disabled is available throughout the year along with the Children's Health Insurance Program (aka CHIP). Contact your State's Medicaid /DCF (department of children and families)/or  Access program.
  9. NEXT YEAR FINES WILL BE SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER.  This fall, once open enrollment begins,you will definitely want to apply before the deadline  because next years fines will be a minimum of $695 per person.
  10. FURTHER INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND ONLINE.  Simply go to or contact a healthcare Negotiator in your area.
Todays Lesson:  "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."  Thomas A. Edison

copyright Linda Matthews 5/26/2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Finally feeling well enough to write a column, and just in time for St. Patricks Day I want to write about a long time acquaintance of mine, the most common genetic disorder in the world, known as Hemochromatosis, aka the "Celtic Curse".

One out of ten people carry a single gene for this disorder, but for people who are descended from Northern Europe and Ireland (where this disorder is believed to have originated) the incidence is even greater, hence the name The Celtic Curse.

Hemochromatosis is a disorder of iron metabolism where the liver fails to produce an enzyme that would normally inhibit the amount of iron absorbed by the individual. Persons with a double hemochromatosis gene run an especially high risk for multiple organ injury, cancer and death, but even carriers of a single gene need treatment to avoid or forestall diseases that we usually associate with aging, like diabetes, heart disease, unusually high family histories of cancer and arthritis (especially in the small joints of the hand). As it is the bodys job to store iron to make red blood cells, the body will seek to store it anywhere it can.  Therefore any vital organ of the body is at risk for damage, organ failure and cancer. Because the liver is the main storage vehicle for iron, cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer are especially increased risks. For many people abnormal liver function may be the first symptom to show up often leaving doctors confused as to the cause. Such individuals should request that an iron panel be done. However at this point damage has likely already occurred. Also it is important to know that a normal iron panel does not rule out whether or not you have the hemochromatosis gene as iron levels may originally be normal and then accumulate over a lifetime. Abnormal iron panels may also be present from inflammation and excess consumption of alcohol.   Since ferritin levels are sometimes used to detect alcholism, some teetotalers have been mistakenly identified as excessive drinkers. Only genetic testing can totally rule out this disorder. Such tests are now readily available with or without a doctors consent. Still this is a familial disease, so a big tip that it may run in your family is when you have a family history of such diseases, especially in the men in your family. The reason for this is that the body has no way of removing excess iron. But in women, monthly cycles and child birth result in lower iron stores. Even so, anemia may be present and is not uncommon in even severe cases of this disorder. As the iron slowly builds up cases are usually diagnosed as people age. But it can still be diagnosed at any age. Babies can be born with it when the mother has an abnormally high level of iron in her system resulting in abnormal liver function at birth.  There have been cases where individuals suffered through repeated organ transplants without diagnosis and death in young adults. It may also be implicated in rare cancers such as pancreatic and liver cancers. Very late stage disease causes such a large increase in iron stores that the skin darkens over the entire body.  Other symptoms include endocrine disorders, kidney disorders, gall bladder issues, impotence and more.

Hopefully someone reading this will get tested and diagnosed. Please forward this information to anyone you know with long standing suffering and an undiagnosable condition. Be well, be smart, get tested if in any way you suspect this may be in your family. Thanks for reading!

Todays Lesson: Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity. Hippocrates

copyright Linda Matthews 3/13/2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014


Not that I would want difficult circumstances imposed upon anyone, but the many extreme and "rare" events that now make up our new "norm"  possess the ability to mold man into a more compassionate and caring race of beings and better prepare him to meet the challenges of tomorrow.....if he cares to ponder such things.

As I sat watching the people of Atlanta and the problems that occurred with their recent snow fall, I couldn't help but compare their situation to that of the homeless.  Suddenly many motorists found themselves stranded in their cars for the night, without food, water and amenities. No doubt many lacked seriously needed medications.  This was a frightening turn of events, but even so groups and individuals came forth delivering whatever help they could.  Those affected were not alone.  They were not shunned.  Most appeared to have some kind of shelter.  Unbidden, strangers emerged on their own and their actions spoke loud and clear, "Don't worry we'll help you!"   "We don't know you but we care."  "No one should have to endure this and we are going to do what we can to help." No one was judged for ending up in this situation.  No one looked away, avoiding their eyes.  Individuals and government agents went out of their way to help them, look for them, and to anticipate problems they might have ahead of time and to correct problems that had already occurred.  As annoyed, hungry, thirsty, cold, afraid and everything else that these people were, for the greater part their misery was fairly short lived and life soon returned to normal.

So why is it that when there isn't a "sudden" crisis and people are found stranded in their cars, hungry and cold, that we look away?  Why are we compelled to judge and condemn them for the complex circumstances of their lives, of which we know nothing?  What makes you think that if what happened in Atlanta suddenly became your way of life   that you would do any better?  How would your behavior deteriorate?  How annoyed would you be with your government and the apathy of others?   How irritable/depressed/broken would you be....because when you are homeless there pretty much isn't anybody comin', there's little if any relief and for all your sufferin' you are made to feel ashamed of circumstances beyond your control.

Even in the difficulty of Atlanta, those who suffered (and I do not wish to belittle what they experienced) went through so much less than the homeless do.  Many homeless have little or no shelter.  If someone comes across them as they sleep they are likely to be beaten or robbed.  Government agents may be of little or no help or may compound the problem by telling them to leave or having them arrested.  These people ran out of their meds a long time ago along with the doctors that prescribed them.  For the general public in Atlanta there was hope.  Not so for the homeless.  Most of them gave up on that idea long ago.

For some strange reason we differentiate between the helplessness connected with sudden events and the helplessness of accumulated events.  This differentiation comes from assumption and judgement, yet no one  applies the same criteria to those who got stuck in Atlanta.  Before anything happened I heard that this might be the worst storm yet.  We all  know that the new norm is to expect the unexpected.  Did people stay home?  Take special precautions?  Take their meds with them?  Take extra food?  Tire chains?  Salt?  Blankets?  Actually it seems as if they behaved just like ordinary people going along with their ordinary lives not expecting anything to change.  And it is the same way with the homeless.  For some it came about slowly, for some more quickly.  I've heard many say, "I never expected that I'd become homeless."  I mean, really, who prepares for that?  For some you are looking at people who never really started out with an equal opportunity, for others, just sheer circumstances overwhelmed them.  In this regard they are exactly like the majority of Americans:  Either they fail to fully recognize the implications of what is happening to them or it is beyond their control or comprehension as to  how to deal with what is occurring.   Mostly people don't want to know and deal with problems.  I find that it is very hard to find people who want to briefly discuss and address anything that is not working.  We are so programmed into "shut up, smile and everything is fine" mode that it's no wonder that we are self destructing and taking the planet with us.  When we fail to take responsibility for our own issues we become particularly annoyed by anyone who would remind us that there's a problem.  Enter the homeless and unemployed and we are just another problem that people would rather forget.  It's much easier to make assumptions/judgements and seek scapegoats.  This is America and I do believe that we have the power and ability to change anything.....if we really want to.  Yes there are problems, but if we have opted out and given away our power and have not properly taken it back then we are the ones to blame.  Being outraged and pointing fingers is just more of the same.  On the day that we recognize that we, each and everyone of us, is responsible and ready to make the sacrifices necessary to fix this mess, then it will be fixed.  Until then, like those others who continue to perpetuate the pointed finger of anger, divisiveness will rule and we shall go nowhere.

Why in a county that has so much should anyone ever have to be stranded?  If it's not acceptable for some, then it is not acceptable for anybody.   It really is that simple.

Today's Lesson:  "Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain't through learning - because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so! when you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is.”
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun

copyright Linda Matthews 1/30/2014

Friday, December 27, 2013


It's Christmas Eve and I am having a fine time. I'm doing housework and eating vanilla ice cream with molasses and ginger and a gourmet lemon shortbread cookie. Tomorrow I'll eat peanuts and apples and celery and turkey with yams and likely end up laying about and watching holiday movies all day long. I will spend the day simply, alone, happy, content and at peace.

So it is with the need for both individuals---and the public in general---to judge yet all I choose to do. Most peoples first thought will be: That's awful! How can I be happy spending a holiday in such a way? Aren't I lonely? What kind of a holiday meal is that can I have a holiday without stuffing and cranberries and cakes and pies and buttered rolls and company and so on? And who do I think I am, to be spending food stamps on things like ice cream and expensive gourmet cookies?

Surely I must be crazy.....(that's a distinct possibility...but I digress).

Due to my years of isolation from my many illnesses, I found myself alone at a holiday some time ago. At first it seemed a little bit lonely and unfortunate...but I quickly began to realize that the time honored traditions of “HOLIDAY” impressed upon the brains of the American public had nothing at all to do with happiness. Over time, being free to do whatever I liked, I began to disengage from the idea of societal programming and began instead to appreciate the simplicity and peace of it all. No manic cleaning, no guests, no dealing with the odd insufferable relative, no drive to shop, cook, put up decorations, wrap presents, entertain and wash all those remaining pots and pans. No exhaustion. Truly no negativity. Over the years I have tried a couple of times (against my better judgment) to please others by having company (what a lot of thankless work that was!) and to accompany a friend to a family holiday meal where I was left to amuse myself with relatives who were not keen on my presence and presented with a meal, most of which was highly desirable yet not on my seriously exclusive diet....(what a miserable/boring day that was!) And today, after months of being away from this column, seriously ill and pretty much unable to do most of what needed attending to, I find myself in just the last two days, finally able to function! (Just go two months without doing any house work and you will find great joy in cleaning a toilet and other assorted annoying tasks.)

So here I am doing exactly what I want and have wanted to be able to do for quite some time. The only thing lacking being a very few goodies. Having recently gone onto an even more restrictive diet I was at odds for finding much of anything sweet that I could eat. Carrying a list of the "newly banned", it was determined that I could eat one brand of vanilla ice cream with few problems, along with the find of a single suitable package of gluten free cookies and a small box of candied ginger I have concocted a delightful sweet that won't put in me into anaphylactic shock. So go ahead and judge my injudicious purchase of what “should be” banned sweets by someone who uses food stamps. For some, my poverty is no excuse for even a cookie and some ice cream as I am simply a drain on the economy and they would happily point out that I really deserve even less.

Bah, Humbug ye Scrooges...for ye are proof that money does not bring thee happiness, but rather unhappiness and a need for thy scapegoats. But for today, as my Christmas Gift to the masses, I will happily play that role for you.  Go ahead! Enjoy!  Indulge yourself in a bit of self righteous condemnation...I won't tell and nobody's to be the wiser...

(Limited time offer/one day only. No rain checks. Offer expires Dec. 26, 2013)

My wish for all who read this: May the peace of the season find permanent residence within you, rather than it's somewhat limited yearly visitation. 
                  Peace on Earth, good will to all, man and beast, big and small.

Todays Lesson: “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer

copyright Linda Matthews 12/27/2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Last month, the CDC released a new study showing that, from 2008 to 2011, rates of obesity among low-income children, ages 2-4 in WIC monitored programs, fell approximately 1% in 19 of the 43 states. People hail attempts at dietary improvements for this decrease in obesity rates. However, it is not clear exactly why this is happening, since studies show that even when given the exact same diet as their richer counterparts, that the poor will still gain much more weight. This difference is generally attributed to higher cortisol production associated with the stress of poverty. In a 2012 study it was determined that approximately 50 million people are currently food insecure in the U.S., and that number rises to 1 in 4 for children.

A few years ago I moved near a soup kitchen in Florida, a hard hit state which has more than it's share of poor and homeless winter arrivals. After the stock market collapsed, I noticed the arrival of increasing numbers of people to the kitchen, and I was surprised at the obesity of some of them. But not now. Now the obese have slimmed down significantly and considering the high fat and carbohydrate content of the food that most soup kitchens serve (and I applaud them for doing the best that they can!), I find this new finding somewhat frightening. I myself have observed stick thin individuals, some of whom looked to be on the verge of starvation. Once as I was out walking in the late afternoon, I came across two teenagers behind a bush, sitting on a hidden ledge, having a “snack”, which was actually their dinner.

“Oh, I see you've found yourself a nice little hidey hole!” I said with a smile. Then I commented on the treat the young man was eating: a large packaged honey bun. “Oh...that's not so good for you.” It seemed a poor choice for a meal.

“Yes I know,” he said. “And I'm diabetic. But this is what they gave me to eat for later and it's all I've got.” Neither of them was overweight....even though this was typical of the type of food that they ate.

I was totally appalled. “Oh that's awful! I am so sorry! ” I said, with great shame at my judgement. “I wish I could help you, but I'm on food stamps myself.” I wished them luck, then I moved on.

Over a year ago, when I still had a car and was out running errands, I saw a sign at a church announcing “free food today”. I was struggling to keep above water financially, so I thought, Yes, I should take advantage of this opportunity, and went over to apply. As I waited for the doors to open, more people arrived. They were among the poorest people that I have ever seen. The condition of their clothing and obvious lack was so apparent that I began to feel quite out of place. I began to feel somewhat torn about my presence there, but I kept my place in line. When my number was called and I entered into the privacy of the one room panty, they took one look at my license and announced that, “We only serve people who live right here in this community and you live too far away to be in our area, but since you are here and we want to give you something. However, we can only do this once. We won't be able to help you again as we are a small church with limitations. The people we serve are very poor.”

“I AM very poor,” I protested. How could $715 a month not be very poor? It's thousands a year below poverty level.  But then I noted, “However, I am not homeless.” It was obvious to everyone, including myself, that even though my income was well below the poverty line, that my situation was nowhere near the level of desperation of those standing outside.

By now I felt extremely uncomfortable. I suggested repeatedly that maybe I just shouldn't be taking anything. The extent of neglect of the American people and the extreme situation so many were in, dawned upon my consciousness like the great glare of a police light on someone who has committed a heinous crime....I felt great shame....and greed.

But they insisted that I take something, so I did. I eventually opened one can, but I was unable to eat the rest, so I donated what they had given me to a food drive. Since then I have not applied to take home free food anywhere because there isn't enough food to fill a far greater need than I have. Such is the sad, unnoticed, state of the American people.

That many of the American public assume the so called “greed” of the homeless and poor is a true testament of both their projected fear and ignorance. No one lives this way out of choice. No one.

Todays Lesson: “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” Mother Teresa

copyright Linda Matthews 10/20/2013

Update:  Shortly after this was written  the State of Florida enacted back-to-back food stamp cuts and I had no choice but to start attending a local soup kitchen to save money.