Shifting Sands: Homelessness and the Unstable Path to Retirement

Homelessness and the Unstable Path to Retirement

As I sit down to write this, it is Thanksgiving in America. In theory, it is a time to celebrate everything one has to be grateful for. I say in theory because this holiday is actually just the calm before the storm that is Black Friday, the embodiment of greed.

However, this is a harvest day celebration designed in many cultures worldwide to represent gratitude to the powers that be for whatever bounty one has harvested from the growing season. 

I am grateful today that I am alone and indoors. I am grateful that I have access today to electricity to power my computer so I can write this. Today, I am grateful for the food and supplies that I have. 

If you have ever walked on a beach of thick sand, then you know what I mean about walking on the shifting sands. It strains your leg muscles as you struggle against the instability under your feet. You never feel like you are on solid ground.

That is what being homeless feels like. That is what housing insecurity feels like. 

Many people make the case that everyone feels this to some extent, but until you have experienced actual homelessness, you cannot imagine what total insecurity and instability feel like. Not really. 

Have you ever watched a chipmunk? They run to a feeder, fill their cheeks with seeds, and run to a hole in the ground or between rocks. They disappear for a while, reappear, and run back to the feeder.

If you have ever had a chipmunk raid your bird feeder, you know how expensive it is to have a chipmunk nearby. But even chipmunks who do not have access to a bird feeder are still performing this ritual of moving found food items from one place to their hidden dens. Why am I talking about chipmunks? It will be evident presently. 

Humans live in this paradoxical world where, on the one hand, we’re taught we should work hard for the future, but we’re also told we should live in the moment. We are told that tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone, but we must work hard now for future rewards. So which is it? 

Nature itself doesn’t seem to have the answer. Some creatures, like the chipmunk, stockpile food for the winter. They work hard all day for months on end for their future security. Yet we see most animals do not. 

Deer, for example, will roam and forage, but they don’t stockpile grasses and bring them to a secret den for winter. Other animals will hibernate for the winter to avoid the need for winter foraging or stockpiling. That may be the smartest way. 

In the human world, I’ve seen people work hard their entire lives and still end up unable to live without serious struggle in retirement.

I’ve seen people in their senior years become homeless because they cannot make ends meet. People who expected their retirement plan to be adequate couldn’t have factored in the unbridled greed of corporations, the true rulers of the earth.

Everything is so beyond expensive now. How could people who grew up in the most stable years that America ever had be able to foresee what is happening now? 

Many people from the early “boomer” generation were able to save and invest money for retirement and work for companies that gave them a decent pension plan. People of that generation would often work for the same company for almost their entire life and then be able to retire with savings, social security, stocks, and a pension.

I read an article not that long ago that stated that the “late bloomers,” meaning those who were born close to the years that would be considered “Generation X,” are often not as lucky as those born in the early “boomer” years. They are the new face of homelessness. 

Companies will do anything to prioritize profit, and very often, that has come at a human cost.

For example, I knew a man from the Boomer generation who had worked for the US post office his entire life. However, his Generation X son was never offered full-time hours with a complete benefits package. He was given just under full-time hours, so he didn’t qualify for any benefits because he was considered part-time. I know hospital workers who told me the same thing is happening. Nurses, for example, are given almost full-time hours but not enough to receive any benefits. 

As a country full of mostly underpaid workers struggle to pay ever-increasing housing costs, not to mention groceries, utilities, vehicle expenses, and household goods, they have no money to put away for retirement. Many of these people work multiple jobs, all under full-time hours, so they often have to buy their own health care on top of it all. 

Many people in Generation X will not be able to retire. If they become too sickly to work (which is my situation), they are at significant risk of becoming homeless. They are starting to reach retirement age now.

Meanwhile, campaigns continue all over to criminalize homelessness and perpetuate lies to the public that all homeless people are drug addicts, alcoholics, and gambling addicts who have made bad choices. Therefore, it’s perfectly alright to withhold sympathy, empathy, or care for those who went down the Bad Choice Road—those who “made their bed and have to lie on it” now.

People like me did not choose to be chronically ill. I did ask to be born. I certainly didn’t ask to be put on this polluted planet.

I was on a path of success once. I nearly “touched the sun,” but in prioritizing a person that I was a caregiver to at the time, who had Down Syndrome, I lost that chance. Shortly after that, my health became so bad that I never got fully back on my feet. I’ve spiraled down since.

Yet, even living with chronic pain, I will not even take a Tylenol or aspirin, much less a big pharma pain pill. How dare these ignorant people declare that everyone who is priced out of housing deserves it because they’re all addicts? 

The fact is this: many people were like those good little chipmunks, and they saved and saved. But unlike the chipmunk who isn’t forced to pay rent to some super-rich chipmunk in his den, humans are forced to, so all their life savings can’t save them from this fate in retirement. Then factor in the underpaid and the sickly.

There doesn’t seem to be a solution to any of this horror. I believe it will all get worse because, in the end, no one is going to fix anything for the benefit of poor people or middle-class workers (if the middle class even exists anymore). Ironically, many who vote against affordable housing now will need it as the economy worsens and they age. 

Editor’s Note: If you would like to help Loki, please visit her GoFundMe page


Homeless Loki

Homeless Loki

  

Homeless Loki is a disabled homeless person also on the autism spectrum currently homeless in upstate New York

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