Every morning I drive to work near the overpass at the New Orleans end of the Crescent City Connection and see the stirring piles of blankets and sleeping bags scattered about on the concrete. Beside these mounds are shopping carts spilling over with the possessions of the homeless. Other mounds have plastic trash bags stuffed with whatever the homeless stuff in those bags — I’m guessing more blankets and sleeping bags, essential survival equipment for life on the streets.
There are also collections of cardboard stacked up. They must be important, judging by the size of the piles. Maybe that’s what makes up bedding. There would be some sort of insulation value between the bodies of the homeless and the cold, hard concrete.
The early-risers stumble about in clumps of two or three. Maybe they’re friends or family. Maybe they just woke up next to each other. I try to imagine what they are talking about. I doubt it’s the same conversations my family had before we all scattered to work and school, well-fed, well-clothed, showered and warm, all of us anxious to return home at the end of the day. How could the conversations be the same? How could someone like me have any idea what they think about or talk about? I just stare blankly at them and they stare blankly back at me.
But for me today(Nov. 11) is different. Today is Veterans Day and in the morning paper I read that 10 percent of the homeless are veterans. After a quick look around I estimate there are about 100 people among the piles around. Do the math. There are probably at least 10 veterans waking up on the concrete this morning under the overpass. Ten veterans who were willing to give their lives to protect our freedom and way of life. Ten veterans who wake up every morning to the humiliation of begging with cardboard signs that say, “ANYTHING HELPS,” or “HELP A VET.” Ten veterans who had the courage that I have never had.
Someone said you can judge a society by how well it takes care of its weakest members. I wouldn’t want to measure the United States using this yardstick.
So to the citizens of the United States of America who woke up on Veterans Day under the over pass, I apologize for our failing you. To the veterans there, I salute you.
Happy Veterans Day.