Put WHO in the zoo?

[Note:  Although “two heads are better than one,” my brother has been ably holding down the fort “single-headedly” for the past two weeks.  I’m hoping to have more of a presence here in future.  Today’s post is an apt illustration of the fact that fodder for blogs can be found anywhere…]

One of my granddaughter Lucy’s favorite books is Put Me In the Zoo, the story of a fantastical creature with large spots which change shape and color.  He visits the zoo, sees the animals being groomed and fed and generally pampered, and wonders why he can’t live there, too.

Lucy loves animals and I was counting the days last month until our local zoo opening.  We’ve visited at least five times so far…including twice this week.

We are fortunate to live in the same town as the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, which has been voted one of the ten best zoos in the country.  With a huge African Journey section, (which includes a herd of giraffes that come to a viewing station where we can actually feed them!); Indonesian Rain Forest (tigers and orangutans, among other delights); Australian Adventure (walk-through aviary and kangaroo areas); and model Indiana Farm, this zoo is not only beautiful but focuses intentionally on educating all its visitors.

All this is also very expensive, both to build and to maintain.  I was surprised and impressed to learn recently that our zoo is a not-for-profit that receives no tax dollars.  It is supported by the sale of admissions, memberships, rides, and generous gifts from donors in our community.

Despite being a full-time “Gramma”  who makes frequent trips to the zoo, I do manage to continue my volunteerism.  I’ve worked for a faith-based social service agency for almost three years now:  Inasmuch has taught me that there are two basic kinds of poverty: situational–which we see more and more nowadays, with people being laid off and seeking charity for the first time–and generational, where people are born into a lifestyle which seems normative, and which they can’t  imagine escaping.   Food stamps, WIC vouchers, Medicaid and public housing are the rule for those entrenched in generational poverty.

Among other things I’ve learned, I know now that there are rigorous criteria for an apartment or house being accepted as a Section 8 dwelling.  Here in Fort Wayne the portion of the document which defines acceptable living conditions runs to 26 single-spaced pages.  Besides sanitary and safety concerns (including 8 full pages on lead-based paint), even the number of required bedrooms is specified:  “The dwelling unit must have at least one bedroom or living/sleeping room for each two persons. Children of opposite sex, other than very young children, may not be required to occupy the same bedroom or living/sleeping room.” I wonder who decided that this was a basic requirement?  I personally know of many families in this town who raised 8 or more children in three-bedroom homes.  Under the FWHA rules, even a family with three girls and two boys would need four bedrooms because 3 girls couldn’t share, regardless of the size of the room.

A part of me is proud that we show such detailed care and concern for even our poorest citizens, making sure that if the government is going to pay for it, that it is clean and safe.   But there’s another part of me which wonders if all that we do for those who live in poverty is self-defeating.  Is it possible to make things too comfortable for those who have no current means of supporting themselves?   If I were living in a cardboard box in Mexico City, a lean-to in Port-au-Prince or a Rwandan refugee camp in Zaire…

I would think of nothing but how to better myself and get out of there.   And yet, betterment in such places is often next-to-impossible, unlikely here–by comparison to so much of the world, we are still the Land of Opportunity.  The impoverished third world has inspired the creation of micro-lenders such as the Grameen Bank and  Kiva.org, who provide small amounts of money to hard-working entrepreneurs for the goals of  becoming self-sufficient, moving out of extreme poverty and into a higher standard of living.

Instead, here in the US if you have nothing then you can be given everything–free housing, free utilities, and free food (about $150 in food stamps per month, per person, if your net income is $0).   And, unlike unemployment benefits, which require that one at least go through the motions of job-hunting, many or all of the resources provided for the indigent are provided with no strings attached.

Is it merely offensive and politically incorrect of me to point out that this turns people into less than zoo animals?  Consider:  the inmates of your local zoo earn their keep by providing both entertainment and education to the general public and to scientists.  (The creature in Put Me in the Zoo moans, “Oh, they would put me in the zoo if they could see what I can do!”)  Most were raised in captivity and will never know any other life.  All their needs are provided for, completely and regularly.  Releasing them back into their native habitat would be disastrous.  In return for the comforts of zoo life, we only ask that they be viewed and studied.  And we pay for the privilege, voluntarily.

Likewise those who have been lulled into the complacency of government dependence–who is requiring them to extricate themselves from the system?  What incentive does someone have to get an entry-level job, when it may mean that their standard of living actually decreases?  On the other hand, what do they contribute in return for this maintenance?  The programs that are supporting them are paid for by those who are already struggling to fend for themselves, and who are not necessarily complicit in the way their tax dollars are spent.  Other than keeping families out from under bridges, what benefit  is it to the average wage  slave that a much poorer family can live comfortably–indefinitely–without earning any income of their own?

I want to post a sign on the nearest Section 8 apartment building:

UNFIT TO SURVIVE IN THE WILD

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8 responses to “Put WHO in the zoo?

  1. Great post. I agree with you wholeheartedly/

    I wrote a similar post called “The Federal Zoo” here: http://therionorteline.com/2011/08/28/the-federal-zoo/

  2. godsbooklover

    Thank you, Utah! I inserted a link to one of your sources in that excellent post.

  3. Hey, I’ve been wondering where the second “head” of this operation was. Nice to see you, and wonderful post.

    My hat’s off to you for your commitment in sticking with the volunteerism. I have a bit of experience in the same area—for a few months, I tutored elementary-age kids through SOS Community Services (http://www.soscs.org), a social service agency that places homeless families in apartments and provides other assistance.

    I liked the kids, but eventually it got to the point where working with them was just kind of depressing for me. These children were picked up from school, brought to a local church for tutoring, and taken home in 13-passenger vans. They were given food, warm clothes in the winter—you name it, it was provided for them. By the agency, its donors and volunteers, and by taxpayers.

    Talking to the kids, I learned that nearly all of them had big-screen TVs at home, wherever that happened to be at the moment. They had video game systems—in many cases, more than one. One boy I worked with had a Nintendo Wii, a PS-2 and an X-Box. He wanted a PS-3. Heck, I want a PS-3, too, but I won’t be getting one anytime soon.

    What they didn’t seem to have was any kind of real parental guidance. Nearly every day, there was at least one kid that didn’t show up. When that happened, the agency called the parent (almost invariably, a single mom) and usually found that the kid wasn’t sick—Mom just didn’t feel like getting him or her to school that day.

    I’d like to believe no one is beyond redemption. But if you’re a parent and your child’s schooling is not a priority, providing a home for him or her is not a priority, and finding a job and being a useful part of society are not priorities, you are, as you say gbl, worse off than an animal in a zoo. And we’ve created generations of these people for the past 45+ years.

    A taxpayer-funded safety net and agencies like SOS have their place, but it’s not to act as an ATM for a permanent underclass. Maybe the opportunity to change this system is coming in November, if we can get the right people elected and they have the courage to do what needs to be done.

    • godsbooklover

      Thanks, Buckeye! I think I’ll have to write some more about Inasmuch. I keep going back there because they try to hold our clients to a much higher standard of accountability than most other agencies. As for your experience…it reminds me of a high school friend in the ’70s who worked as a grocery story clerk and was resentful that customers on food stamps ate so much better than her family, which had two working parents.

      • Can’t say I was resentful—basically everything these kids and their parent(s) had was given to them—but like I said it just got kind of depressing after a while. I began to wonder whether they were really being helped, so the theme of your original post resonated with me.

        • livinrightinpgh

          Well, I’ll be the one to say that I DO resent it. Welfare and social support programs should be designed to make sure the staples of day to day life are there, and that a path to self reliance is illuminated. (Please see the Heritage.Org piece on what “Poverty in America” means.)

          The working class in this country has a President who dines on Kobe beef, and a welfare class that can sit around and watch Oprah on their big screen TV, while talking on the I-Phone, etc, etc, etc. while they, the working class, support them all.

          But again, welfare has evolved into a program of enslavement to garner votes.

          Sorry, but THAT’s the reality.

  4. Pingback: No, I don’t “Like” this post at all… « Two Heads are Better Than One

  5. Generational poverty is indeed perverse, GBL. Too true.

    I just spoke about this over the weekend with a priest from the inner city, and the challenges families face there are daunting, at the least. There would no doubt be some hardship short-term if benefits were cut, but the alternative is much, much worse: sudden and merciless austerity when we finally need to pay the piper and can no longer sell or monetize our debt.

    If rectifying this untenable situation gradually will be difficult, doing it suddenly will be catastrophic.
    I know which choice I’d prefer.

    Let’s pray that we have enough new leaders next year who will ….choose wisely.

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