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Monday, January 25, 2010

The American Apocalypse

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WARNING: If you object to stories about politics and food, you will want to skip this post.

Welcome to the American Apocalypse. It's occurring under bridges all over America, like this one on Bell Street, around the corner from Grady Memorial Hospital.

I pass the bridge daily on my way home to Grant Park, where I live. This is the third time I've seen the homeless and hungry thronging about a table where they are fed, apparently by a charitable organization.

In the past, the homeless have lived under the bridge but the police routinely swept them and their possessions away. They always came back a few weeks later and the police were never far behind.  Bell Street itself was closed some months ago, because of construction of another mixed-use housing development on the former site of Grady Homes, a public housing project. As far as I know, the new housing is not for the poor.

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Until recently, the average American considered the fate of these people something quite apart from his own. But corporations,  given unbridled political power last week by the Supreme Court, continue to lay off thousands of employees to preserve their profits. Between the employment crisis and the mortgage crisis, the middle class is shrinking dramatically. Huge numbers of the middle class are now on food stamps and depending on food banks.

Don't think for a minute that the apocalypse excludes people you know. As I sloshed around in the rain to take these pictures, I heard my name called twice. This man (above, right, foreground) approached me to ask, "Aren't you Cliff Bostock?" Surprised, I confirmed my identity, and he poured compliments on me for my former column, "Headcase."

I

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literally did not know how to respond other than to thank him. I wanted to ask him how he recognized me, how he ended up under the Bell Street bridge, what he  does for food when this isn't available. But I found myself feeling emotional, almost in a panic. So I made a hasty departure.

As I've told numerous friends, I'm feeling in some ways like I'm reliving my late teens and early 20s, when I was, as my parents continually called me, "a bleeding heart liberal," who worked in anti-poverty programs as a volunteer.

Like most Americans, though, I've long lived by the notion that societies evolve for the better. But that's a fantasy. Cultures have risen and fallen throughout history and it appears we are falling fast. A scene like this one is heartbreaking. It's bad enough that millions don't have access to health care and lose their jobs while the plutocrats of Wall Street enjoy their million-dollar bonuses. But to not have enough to eat in this country is an utter obscenity.

Please support organizations that are feeding and otherwise helping the hungry, the homeless, the poor but employed and the unemployed. There's the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Cafe 458 and Samaritan House just for starters. Check out The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless' video to learn who the homeless are and how you can help..

I know it's a cliche to say "there but for the grace of God go you or I," but it's also demonstrably true. Talk to the homeless instead of  waving them away with a dollar bill. You will likely be quite surprised.

(Photos by Cliff Bostock)

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