A few weeks ago Mr. Z and I spent a pleasant afternoon and evening listening to a half-dozen regional bands perform. A silent auction was set up inside the concert venue, and raffle tickets were available for purchase. The bands donated their time and talent for this benefit concert, and all proceeds went to help pay the medical bills of a young woman with cancer.
And the other day, a friend’s Facebook post lead me to this article about a husband and wife both diagnosed with advanced cancer. They have a small child, and their friends are trying to raise money for their treatment and other expenses. At the link, you can see a beautiful photo of them with their kid, watch their wedding video, and find the blog that tells you more about them and how to make a donation.
But then I wondered: What is it that makes these medical bill fundraisers any different from panhandlers on the street?
Everyone will tell you don't give money to the panhandlers - give to homeless shelters, or work to change the system, or to build affordable housing so people won't be homeless. Giving to individual homeless people just perpetuates the system, and they'll probably just buy booze and cigs anyway. So why should we give to individuals who need money for medical expenses? Isn't that just perpetuating the system of craptastic health care we have now? Shouldn't we work to change things and make health care affordable for everyone? Won't those sick people just use that money to buy substandard care that isn't really going to help them much anyway?
What’s the difference between panhandling for food and shelter, and panhandling for medical care? Why do we have more sympathy for medical panhandlers? Why do they seem more worthy to us, even admirable in their struggle? Why do we blame the one, but not the other, for their plight?
Let's take a look at who's homeless. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless,
In 2003, children under the age of 18 accounted for 39% of the homeless population; 42% of these children were under the age of five (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2004). This same study found that unaccompanied minors comprised 5% of the urban homeless population. However, in other cities and especially in rural areas, the numbers of children experiencing homelessness are much higher...
The number of homeless families with children has increased significantly over the past decade. Families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In its 2007 survey of 23 American cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that families with children comprised 23% of the homeless population (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2007). These proportions are likely to be higher in rural areas. Research indicates that families, single mothers, and children make up the largest group of people who are homeless in rural areas (Vissing, 1996). All 21 cities with available data cited an increase in the number of persons requesting food assistance for the first-time. The increase was particularly notable among working families. (U.S. conference of mayors 2008)...
Research indicates that 40% of homeless men have served in the armed forces, as compared to 34% of the general adult population (Rosenheck et al., 1996).
Kids. Families. Vets. White, African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian. Men and women. About three-fourths of the homeless are not mentally ill, and over two-thirds do not have a substance abuse problem. Those who are mentally ill or who have substance abuse issues need and deserve help, but I put it this way because the stereotypical view of a homeless person is a mentally ill, addicted single man, and the implicit or explicit judgment is that he got there on the streets through some fault of his own, and is not deserving of our help. Unlike those poor deserving cancer folks blasted by fate and circumstance, who are good people.
This is not to say that those without adequate health insurance don't come in for their share of abuse. Someone will be quick to blame them for not having adequate coverage (that doesn't exist), or will say it's not their responsibility to bail them out if they don't have enough cash to take care of their own family, or that any talk of the need for adequate universal health care is the same thing as saying we should open the borders and give all our jobs away to illegal immigrants and spit on the flag and become Communists.
Well, it doesn't matter. If that malicious Scrooge of a governor in Wisconsin and all his cronies have their way, we'll all be panhandling soon enough for our medical bills, food, shelter, and clothing. Though it's going to be awfully hard to catch the attention of those with the cash to spare as they zip out of the gated communities in their chauffeured cars on their way to wherever it is the ultra-mega-rich hang out. Oh well, there's always the casinos and lottery tickets. Or maybe, if we're lucky, they'll make a Foundation Scott Walker Peron for us!