Homelessness happens. Maybe you have no pension, or maybe your pension is too little to keep up with what the real estate speculators are doing to rent levels and real estate prices. Nowadays, in the Bay Area, old Victorians go for a million plus. To rent an apartment, you have to be able to pay $2000 a month for a studio or one bedroom.
Ani is old, and sick. and can’t leave her tent. Except to wind up in the hospital. She cracked her skull open trying to get down to a BART platform. Her wheelchair got caught in the escalator and she fell.
The city government claims it has no money for people. They spent over a hundred thousand for police overtime incurred during 2016 for all the raids on the homeless encampments. The US reaps huge profits from dominating Mexican markets with cheap goods, and have none to take care of the elderly and disabled homeless here.
But there is plenty of money. This is the richest country in the world. Mexico isn’t the only economy exploited by it. Yet government claims it is starved for funds so that housing programs, and educational systems, and health care, etc. all have to be cut back. However, there is plenty of money. It is in the five-sided building, that institution that simply has to wave its hand to get appropriations it didn’t even ask for. The US right now is bombing seven different countries in the world. Perhaps it can’t stop killing people in order to make its attitude toward the homeless here at “home” look benign. The military has but to cancel one contract for a new plane to provide health and education for everyone.
Ani would have been dead by now if it weren’t for the other homeless people who belong to that prophetic group called “First they Came for the Homeless.” They call themselves an ‘intentional community’, which means they take care of each other, know each other well, make their own rules democratically, keep their place spic and span, and make sure nobody dies of hunger or a terrible disease. Alcohol and drugs are not an option. They are banned from the encampment. If you come into the camp wearing that millstone around your neck, they will take care of you, but only on the basis of agreements. Agreements occur between equals. It is what produces belonging. First, there is agreement on some method of getting rid of the millstone. Then, “belonging” means living up to the agreements.
So Ani is still alive. But she’s doing some serious hospital time.
You know what it makes me think of? There was a movie I saw a long time ago about a tribe in ancient Japan that would take their old people, who could no longer contribute to the well-being of the society, up into the mountains, and leave them there to starve to death, or throw them off a cliff. It was a 1958 film called “The Ballad of Narayama,” directed by Shichiro Fukuzawa. You watch the movie, and you go through the anguish of this family, torn between what the whole is doing and what the part must endure because of an age-old helplessness. (It is similar to the anguish that one sees in the woman who is the main character in the short story, “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson.)
There was a lot of controversy at the time the movie came out about whether the story was true or not. Fukuzawa took the story from a novel about the practice, and made it visible for everyone. Some said only savages would treat people like that. You can imagine what some other people were saying. But now, we know the story in the movie was true.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘No Country for Old Women’.