A branch of the Youth Volunteer Corps works in the office space next to ours.
By BEN PROFFER
Special to The Star
One Friday last fall as I was coming back from lunch, some organizers were hauling boxes from their office space to prepare for a homelessness simulation with their volunteers (ages 13 to 18). These young people, Kansas Citys children, were going to sleep in boxes for the night together, mixed in groups of people they had never been around before.
No tents. No insulation. Just whatever sleeping apparatus they had brought with them and a box.
The following Monday, while walking back from lunch, a man stopped me on the sidewalk and demanded I help those people.
Im sorry? I said, not understanding what people he was talking about.
Dont look at me, cracker, he said. Those people back there with the bags. They homeless. Help your people.
I had no money on me (which is a luxury I dont even think about; to have a bank that gives me access to my money at any time) and I had to apologize.
The woman with him said: Dont mind him. Were homeless, too. Do you have any change for a meal?
And again, I was sorry.
I walked on. I did the same thing I do most days, except perhaps three or four times a year when I somehow manage to have a few dollars in my wallet.
What could I have done? Turned around, for one. I could have turned around, walked 20 feet to the sandwich shop on the corner, told these people that I would go inside and get them a sandwich that would sustain them for six hours or so for $5.
Or I could have taken out my phone, looked up a homeless aid organization and sent them there, which might have been worth even more. It could have given them a resource that could last them through this frigid winter.
Or I could have rebalanced the national budget so that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, was robust again; I could have closed hundreds of tax loopholes and reformed the tax code to discourage the accumulation of massive wealth, while simultaneously providing resources to employers who expand their employee base; I could have approved a carbon tax and used the money to create competitive energy policies that encourage a wide range of options for every region, employing many times more people than a single pipeline ever could.
Oh wait Im sorry. Im mistaking myself for Congress. Again.
You see, Ive been so busy lately that I havent had the opportunity to join those Kansas City children in their box camp, shivering in the cold and learning what its like to have nothing and neither has Congress. I guess thats something we have in common.
But Ive thought about those children, and the men and women of Kansas City who are struggling with far more than petty politics, every day since that Friday. The next time I can, Im going to buy a sandwich for the next person who asks for change.
Members of Congress can make change, too; but it may take a box camp simulation to get them there.
Ben Proffer of Kansas City is a writer and an environmental and social activist who works at Proffer Productions, a video production company founded by his father in 1978.