Ghost people

26 Apr

Before reading this post I want to press upon you that I really am no expert on American society having been in the States for only 3 weeks. Therefore this observation is simply that, an observation. With that said it is something I have seen over and over again this past month and after speaking to a few locals I don’t think it’s all in my head.

So homelessness is obviously a global phenomena and I would be a fool to say otherwise but there really is something about homelessness here in the USA that stands out in a big way. In London, like any major city, we have a massive problem with people living on the streets: Whether it’s down to substance abuse, mental health issues or young runaways there are always people that slip through society’s net and end up sleeping rough BUT I really do have to question just how big the holes are in the net here in the USA.

Homelessness in the USA by state

Firstly, the number of homeless people that I see every day is so much more than what I’m used to. Both in Washington DC and here in Denver the parks, city centres and cultural quarters seem to be home to hundreds of homeless people. These malnourished, dirty and bedraggled individuals, often shouting at cars or mumbling into paper bags (archetypical hobos many of them) are a stark contrast to the lavish museums, shiny malls and multi story car-parks which surround them. As a personal example, whilst walking from my apartment in uptown to a craft store on one of the main roads I passed 8 people talking to themselves, that’s 8 people in 3 miles! This was so striking that at first I thought everyone must be using Bluetooth…

Homeless people on the 16th Street Mall in Denver

And yet, despite being so much more conspicuous and vocal than I have ever experienced before (and living in such landmark and popularised areas) these people are ghosts: A dirty woman stands weeping in the middle of the park and families walk by feeding the geese; A sunburnt man with a cardboard sign round his neck shouts racist remarks at passersby and people look right through him.

Now I’m not advocating that we all become ‘good Samaritans’ and rush to ‘help’ these people (In some cases you’d have to have a deathwish!) I’m simply astonished at how much these people become the wallpaper to everyday life here in Denver. In London a woman shouting at traffic would be given a wide berth but I believe that at least it would turn heads, but not here. When I’ve asked local people about the situation a number of them refer to homelessness in the USA as more of a lifechoice or a subculture. A few have made comparisons with the way these people live and the Occupy movement, a sort of rebellious counterculture if you like. Now I do see the logic in this to some extent, and perhaps for some it is a choice, to be honest I haven’t stopped to ask. But whilst I know it would help us all to sleep at night if we could pass off all these people as eccentrics who simply enjoy a life on the streets… I just don’t quite buy it. Firstly here in Colorado the weather is extreme to say the least, I still haven’t experienced the coldest months but I’m prepared for months of heavy snow and subzero temperatures contrasting with the current sunburn inducing heat. Cold like that can kill you, surely nobody would chose to sleep rough when it’s -15c outside or when your sleeping quarters quickly become a snowdrift? Well at least nobody in their right mind and that leads into my next point.

Many of the people I see walking along aren’t just quirks they’re seriously disturbed, if living rough is really a choice then surely you need to be compus mentus to make that choice? Junkies and paranoid schizophrenics are hardly a rebel subculture, and are not the kind of people that should be trusted to look after their own best interests. Whilst I understand that they may not function in society at all, and dragging them into our care is no doubt a tremendous struggle, it does upset me to see SUCH a failure in the duty of care.

Ok, so I’m really no longer entirely sure where this is going and I fear its disintergrating into a bit of a bleeding-heart rant as I haven’t really got any solutions to offer. All the same I would like to end on one point: As much as Britain takes a wrap for being a ‘nanny state’ that allows ‘freeloaders’ and the ‘workshy’ to take advantage there is something to be said for a state’s duty to care for its people. I think that perhaps Britain has gone too far one way, but having lived here for only a few weeks I feel that there is another extreme operating here in the USA.


8 Responses to “Ghost people”

  1. Isobel April 26, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    Sad story thanks for sharing, as for the reason I think it’s as simple as no access to free healthcare.

    • commandpluszed April 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Thanks for reading Isobel, you probably have a point. Despite its flaws I do feel VERY thankful for the NHS.

    • Vicky May 14, 2017 at 11:23 am #

      Esta regra dos 25 anos aplica-se a um candidato que já é presidente (portanto, rePs)didata-aen?cergunto isto porque, pelo menos neste momento, não há ilegitimidade no facto de ser presidente sem ter os 25 anos de sócio.De resto, se for verdade o que é referido no Eterno, não há espanto.Vieira é alguém que gere o Clube com pouca clareza, onde a transparência parece ser proibida.Tem o comportamento típico dos políticos: acha-se o maior e por isso, pode tudo. Inclusivamente não prestar esclarecimentos a quem o alimenta.

    • immobilienkredit August 30, 2017 at 9:42 pm #

      My partner and I stumbled over here from a different website and thought I might check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to checking out your web page repeatedly.

  2. Owen August 4, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Bit late to comment on this I know, but I’ve only just caught up on your blog. Very good post, but when you have people committing suicide because they can’t access sufficient benefits to even feed themselves ( – the full list of people who’ve committed suicide because they can’t get the help they need is at then I totally, utterly disagree that the UK has a “nanny state” problem. While there are no doubt a small minority of those living on benefits who do so because they don’t want to work, the vast majority of people who depend on state help to meet their basic material needs do so because of health problems or the simple fact that there aren’t jobs available (longest recession in living memory and all that).

    • commandpluszed August 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      Hey Owen, thanks for the comment mate!

      You’re not the first person to say this, firstly let me say that I don’t personally believe the UK to be a ‘Nanny State’, in the post I stated is as an example of what many people think. Now I fear I’m going to sound very ‘Daily Mail’ but it is true that I also believe our British care system to be flawed. It’s not that we give too much support (as shown by your link, we probably don’t give enough to those who actually need it) but I do believe we don’t discriminate properly as to who receives aid. Let me clarify: I don’t believe we are a nation of ‘benefit scroungers’, not at all, that’s a load of crap, but despite what you say I have observed that we do have a problem with people who can work but don’t. That’s from personal observation by the way, not from any official statistics and definitely not from the hateful tabloid press. We are I believe letting these people down, in that we are not encouraging work, or as you said, having the work available in the first place (wow, that sounds a bit ‘Big Society’ doesn’t it? Cringe) the incentive/ability to work is clearly not… well, working. Now I don’t believe the answer is to decrease the aid we give through cuts, but I do think we need to be more careful who we give aid to. If we can do this without letting down those who do need support then all the better.

      Christ, what a load of tosh, best leave politics to those who don’t rely on Wikipedia for sources Sacha! To be honest Owen, you probably know a lot more than me on this issue (being a particularly well informed individual) and I don’t mean that in a passive aggressive or self-defacing way! this post was meant to be an observation of American culture than a criticism/affirmation of the British benefit system. I’m a simple ‘say what I see’ person, if you can show otherwise that I’m wrong then I’m more than happy to kowtow!

      • Tom August 6, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

        I think it is certainly an interesting post, and I don’t think one should kowtow, yet it is vital to point out that most people on benefits are employed. It is also crucial to underline that the economic policy being pursued at the moment is reducing the number of full time jobs with the result that many more people are relying on unemployment benefit because they are capable of working, but cannot find someone to employ them. The number of people who (effectively) can’t be bothered to work and claim benefits is really very small by comparison. The reference to ‘nanny state’ might appear to belittle the concept of a welfare state to some degree, I fear, though I am aware that this is not an aim of your post, or indeed the language you have used!

  3. Tom August 6, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    In reference to ypur reply, rather than your blogpost, btw.

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