Poverty: America’s Undiagnosed Disease

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It was the end of my trip to Washington D.C. With my suitcase packed and mind occupied with the memories of  10 days spent in the nation’s capital, I set out for what would be my last trip on the D.C. Metro. It was about 5:30 in the morning, a time when most teenagers are still sleeping and most parents are either preparing for the day ahead or already on their way to work. 5:30 is also one of the cooler times of the day. This morning was different though. As I ventured out into the street, I was enveloped by frigid air and greeted by an unfriendly gusting wind.I could feel my nose stinging, and my ears burning. As the wind whipped my face I could feel the stinging of my eyes as tears began to form in the corner of my eyes and gently slide down my face. It was bitterly cold.

While lugging my over-stuffed suitcase to the train stop, I became enamored by something that I saw. In the ungodly cold morning air, there was a man standing in front of a small door that was set into a concrete wall. It offered some shelter, but not very much, from the constant wind. As I walked past, him I saw he was rubbing the thin jacket that was wrapped around his frail, thin body. He looked at me and with a gentle smile coming to his face he said, “good morning.” He was the face of American poverty.

This small concrete doorway was his home. This was where he lived. He did not have the luxury or the convenience of sitting inside a temperature regulated apartment. For whatever reason, something happened to this man that brought him to live without the comforts offered to many in America. It could have been one bad decision, a string of bad luck. Whatever it was, this is where he now found himself. Cold, homeless and all alone in a world inhabited by about 7 billion people. No one to turn to. No one to help. The world was harsh to him, and maybe some people were even harsher. He had so little, but he still had enough to say good morning to someone who probably would have never said, “good morning” to him.

While on the train heading back to the comforts of suburbia and the commodities that home offers, I was struck by what had just transpired. It was in the capital of the world’s richest nation where I met the all-too common face of poverty. It could be a mother, a father, a sister or a brother. It can be an entire family. The point is that poverty still exists. It’s easy to forget while we become enticed by the idea that more is better. More clothes and better cars. More, More, More. Me, Me, Me.We look to get more while others look to have some. Some place to call home. Some hot meals to eat on a consistent basis. Some hope that someone will give them the help they need to get back on their feet and start heading in the right direction. It is easy to tell ourselves that someone must be unfit, an alcoholic or disturbed when they are homeless and living on the streets. Sometimes this is not the case though; maybe they just need some help.

From the hills of West Virginia to the streets of our biggest cities, to the quaint streets of quiet suburbia, poverty is alive, and it is thriving. So as you sit inside today with your favorite sweatpants, largest sweater and favorite slippers listening to the wind howl outside, remember there are people out there taking on that howling wind. As you curl up in your bed, someone is curling up on a bench in the local park. As you ask for another new gadget, someone out there is asking for a warm meal, a warm bed and most importantly, someone is asking for someone to care. Anybody who cares enough to do something about this undiagnosed disease.

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