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Hands Across America to Help the Hungry

June 01, 1986

Was Hands Across America a success? Yes and no. Yes, for those who can placate their consciences by paying $10 to hold hands and sing for 10 minutes. The participants got to feel good, but I don't. Next week I, too, will be homeless.

Why am I becoming one of the homeless and hungry? I am one of the ignorant ones that our President was refering to. Sure, I receive food stamps while trying to live on $268 monthly, but those benefits were reduced when I lost my phone service because I couldn't pay the bill; $268 doesn't stretch to pay rent and utilities no matter how frugally I live.

Reduced housing costs, such as lost phone service or shut-off utilities, results in reduced food stamp benefits regardless of the continuing financial obligations. Cash aid? The Department of Public Social Services has told me that I am now getting more from state disability benefits than I would on general relief. At this point I am ignorant of where to turn for help after exhausting all known contacts with public service agencies and I am resourceful at ferreting out possible referral sources.

Where am I going? I have no idea. Were I a recovering addict/alcoholic, a battered woman, a mother with dependent children, or disabled "enough" I might find temporary emergency shelter or qualify for subsidized housing. I'll probably lose the rest of my food stamp benefits as soon as I'm on the streets because, in theory, I'll no longer have housing costs.

Why don't I get out there and find a job? My health has temporarily interrupted my employability. Two weeks ago I underwent surgery on both feet, my third orthopedic surgery since 1984. Because I can no longer afford to pay rent, instead of giving my feet time to heal I am packing up everything I own, 10 years of possessions, in preparation for homelessness.

What do I see as a solution? I would like to see each participant of Hands Across America adopt a homeless person or family and take them, as family, into his home for six months. Provide an address and a base of operations from which to apply for benefits and seek employment. Help the adoptee put aside enough funds to get into his own home and back on his feet. Reach your hands in a direction that will have some real effects in changing conditions.


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