The Homeless Chronicles Pt. 11: The Wealthy and the Homeless

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If you haven’t had the opportunity or inclination to read any of my other many blogs about being homeless, I will give you a quick briefing: I’m a 49 year-old white female, college -educated former business owner and artist. I became homeless a year ago, and my blog chronicles the adventure from the beginning up until now (I’m still homeless). I didn’t become homeless as a result of mental illness, drug-addiction, alcoholism, or domestic violence. I became homeless as a result of a declining economy, just like millions of other American small-business owners. You’d be shocked to find out how fast your life can and will unravel after only two months of little-to-no income. If it could happen to me, it can happen to anyone. 

I must make it very clear that this chapter of my blog on homelessness is not intended to attack the wealthy. In fact, it’s intended to do the opposite. I hope to use my tiny voice to enlighten people of means with a different perspective about the subject. Wealth in and of itself covers a very broad spectrum. It can mean an individual, a family, or a corporation. It can include people who’ve inherited their wealth, it can include someone who fought and scratched for every cent as he or she ascended the ladder. It can include celebrities, athletes, corporate raiders, tech-whizzes, rock stars, oil barons, or any type of successful entrepreneur. My point is that, in my opinion, the “method” by which someone has acquired their wealth will not be a factor in determining how and why they will (or will not) share their wealth.

We cannot and should not assume that if someone who has earned their wealth honestly and with hard work will be less generous, any more than we could assume that a person who acquired their wealth easily, or by inheritance, will be more generous. It doesn’t work that way. I think it’s based on their personality and how much pleasure they derive from helping others. Philanthropists are born from all walks of life, just as the greedy are. Greedy people do not need to be rich, just as philanthropists do not need to be rich. However, those stereotypes exist for a reason, and that it seems to be the case most of the time.

Either way, regardless of how someone acquired their wealth, their personality will determine how and why they will or will not share that wealth. You might also be thinking that the amount of wealth will determine their willingness to help other people with it, but I don’t agree. First of all, the very term “wealth” is relative to the person making that assessment. Second, even people of “minimal” wealth can still be generous because they just give on a smaller scale. Hell, even poor people can be generous with their tipping at a diner, or they can give a few coins to the guy who panhandles outside their supermarket. Generosity is not limited to the wealthy any more than frugality is limited to the poor.

You might be wondering how this homeless (therefore, clearly poor) person has the gall to be writing about the generous or stingy inclinations of the wealthy. My answer is simple: just because I am poor right now doesn’t mean that I’ve never known wealthy people. In fact, I have been friends with a few wealthy people over the course of my life, and I was able to not only “observe them up close,” but to actually talk to them about it. What I learned about wealthy people during those friendships is this: most wealthy people do not appear wealthy, in that they don’t walk around dripping with diamonds. They do not advertise their wealth; in fact, they hide it. The second thing I learned about wealthy people is this: they absolutely give to charity. They donate bits here and there to a wide range of charities, and some of them donate quite large amounts to causes that are dear to them personally.

The third (and possibly most important) thing I learned about the wealthy is this: they know full-well that when they donate $1,000 to a particular cause, whether it be to the Children’s Hospital at Christmas, or cancer research at tax-time, they know that they will never see a direct result from that donation. They donate because it makes them feel good to give, not because they think they will actually cure cancer with that $1,000. They know that $1,000 is not going to save the life of a specific child who will then leap into their arms and thank them with tears streaming down their little face.

So why then, do they do it? Because they can, and because it feels good. Why then, do some of them refuse?  I think it’s probably not out of greed or being a miser, but rather they have donated many times before and have not seen any benefit from it. Maybe some of them have helped so many people before, and have been burned. Maybe they are sick to death of giving, giving, and giving more and having everyone around them take and take. In the case of my friend, his three adult kids were constantly nagging at him for money. “Dad, I wrecked the Benz again!” or “Dad, I need a house closer to school.” In fact, their greed with his money got so out of hand that he had to “put his foot down” after he paid for his son’s wedding at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Beach, and plane tickets for dozens of the bride’s family members and friends, many of whom weren’t even very close. So in my friend’s case, he was so tired and beaten down by his entitled kids, that he grew cynical. I know one thing for sure, and that is if he were alive today, I would not be homeless.

What my friend liked about me was that I never once asked him for money. I was in college and struggling, but I had several jobs and I did all kinds of other things to make money. I made and sold T-shirts on eBay, I bought and sold old textbooks, and I did makeup on cross-dressers to survive while pulling down 18-20 units per semester. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before transferring to UCLA, he bought me a car. The car I had been driving for years was old and beat up, and would break down on me regularly. The driver door was dented and didn’t open, so I had to climb over the passenger seat to exit the car. After it broke down on me on the way to an important doctor appointment, he insisted on buying me a used Mustang. Of course I accepted it, because I needed to get to that hospital every single day, and it was really far away from my apartment. It was the first time in my life anyone ever bought me an expensive gift, and the first time anyone had ever done anything “grand” for me. I was shocked and grateful, and I had no idea how to accept a gift like that gracefully. He liked the fact that I was truly grateful, because other people in his life expected things like that and were not at all grateful.

My point is that wealthy people like to help those who are truly deserving of their help. They like to help those who help themselves, but they also like to help the vulnerable; such as children, victims of abuse, or the chronically ill. It’s because those people are in need due to no fault of their own, so obviously someone who has a gambling debt is less likely to get help from a generous benefactor. In my case, my friend knew that I was a very hard worker and I had to deal with cancer on my own. He was happy to buy me a car, but his kids were very angry with him about it. That goes to show the difference between someone who is generous to someone who is deserving, versus those who get angry that their father helped someone other than them.

When I talk about my wealthy friend, I speak from the perspective of a poor person. A really wealthy person would not consider my friend wealthy, but instead he would probably be labeled “affluent.” He was in real estate, owned several very nice homes and loads of commercial properties. But he was by no means Jay Z, or of that ilk. He wasn’t ultra-rich by any stretch of the imagination, just my imagination. As a person who was raised in poverty, my ideas about the rich came from watching television. Nowadays, that information is readily available to anyone with a access to a computer, and it’s not hard to observe the impulsive spending habits of the celebrity nouveau riche. As continually proven by the Kardashians, wealth does not necessarily create class or generosity. In fact, they demonstrate what a lot of wealthy people would call a flagrant and vulgar display of wealth, which makes them appear trashy. Imagine having billions, and still be largely regarded as trashy by your wealthy counterparts!

Whether we are wealthy or poor, we (Americans) all have something in common; and that is we all have access to the same television shows and the same social media. Poor people can see shows like “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “Rich Kids of Beverly Hills,” and the like, and develop a genuine sense of failure and lack of self-worth. Rich people can watch those same shows, and react in a competitive way, such as irresponsible spending in order to feel and appear “equal.” I can’t speak for anyone else when I say that if I had access to that kind of wealth, you can bet your Clive Christian-soaked ass that I wouldn’t waste it on a Hermes Birkin bag. If I had $30,000 to throw away on a fucking purse, I’d pay a family’s rent for a year instead. Whenever I see these shows about characters who spend tens of thousands of dollars on trips to Dubai, where all they do is bicker with each other, it makes my stomach turn. Or they spend even more than that on a birthday party for a four year old. If I had $60,000 to throw away on a five-hour event for a child, I would pay the rent for SIX families for a year!

I don’t pretend to understand the “pressure” that these filthy-rich and spoiled women feel to keep up with (and out-do) one another, but to my simple mind, it is the same class-battle we all experienced in grade school. There was always one girl who was richer than everyone else, and every other girl in the class felt like shit unless her daddy would buy her the same ugly shoes as the rich girl. Within the first few weeks of the school year, the class would be divided into clusters of those who could afford the expensive/ugly shoes, and the ones that couldn’t. So the eight or nine girls who had the “right” shoes all hung out together, and the ones who were poor (who wore Levi’s and Converse, if we were lucky) all hung out together. There was the rich group and the poor group, and we hated each other. Doesn’t seem like much has changed, does it? Social stratification starts in grade school, and it never goes away. But what the blind parents and teachers don’t seem to notice is that the poor kids are always the ones who are more likely to get into alcohol and drugs. Gee, I wonder why that is? Could it be because we are told that we are less than our wealthier peers? Could it be because we feel, and are often told, that we are not as good as the other kids? Could it be the daily…hell, hourly reminders that we will never have what they have? What I constantly notice when I watch these rich-housewife shows, is that none of them have any poor friends. Of course they don’t. Poor girls weren’t good enough for them in grade school, and they are not good enough for them now. And they perpetuate the cycle by training their young daughters to be the exact same way.

So forgive me if I don’t feel sorry for poor, poor Camille Grammer after her “horrific” divorce (which left her a millionaire-ess), as she piddles about in her enormous Malibu mansion. I can’t imagine her pain. Adrienne Maloof could pull one painting off the wall of her palace and feed ten hungry families for a year with the money. If I sound bitter, it’s not because I am jealous. I’m bitter because people like her and her friends could help so many deserving people with their wealth, but their need to live in such extravagance and waste supersedes any sense of duty or morality. I know, I know. It’s their money to do with what they want. I get that. But nobody needs that much money, and it angers me that they don’t feel the need to help others less fortunate than themselves. With the money she spends on one car, I could start a business that would support me for the rest of my life.

Although I am aware that these people do regularly donate to charity, I would like to see them go a little beyond the anonymous donating to a faceless cause. By the time those funds pay the marketing costs, their staff, and all the other “expenses” that are incurred along the way, probably less than ten percent actually goes into the hands of the needy for which it is intended. What I would rather see is them picking out one or two capable and deserving people from a homeless shelter, and helping them in a profound way. Get them a place to live, help them with getting gainful employment or an education. Do something that directly helps a family in need, and not just by having your accountant cut a check at tax-time to some charity whose director is filtering the funds into their personal account.

If I could convince the wealthy that not all homeless people are filthy drunks that deserve what they got, I would die happy. If I could teach all wealthy people to treat the homeless with kindness and compassion, I would. If I could help them understand that the homeless are just human beings who deserve to be looked in the eye and not discarded like trash, I would try. I also understand that unfortunately not all homeless people can be helped. Some of them truly are beyond help, or have families that have tried a million times to help them. Some are perfectly content to be homeless, and some are not even aware that they are. Some got there through no fault of their own, and some are so ill that they couldn’t live like normal if they tried. No matter what you think someone did to “deserve” being homeless, everybody deserves a second chance in life. So why can’t it be you that gives it to them? Get out there and help a real person who would thrive with your help! Go save a life!

 

 

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