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Double-Dog-Dare to 2016 Prez Candidates: Ride With Me If You Dare(Pt 2)

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Barb listens to President Obama

Squeezed by sequestration. Frustrated with the President and Congress’s inability to grasp the scope of suffering of millions of low-income families. I’m more determined than ever to double-dog-dare 2016 Presidential and VP candidates to ride along with me on a pre-election USA Poverty Tour.

My last Speakeasy post found Pat LaMarche and me, the Babes of Wrath, on the sands of the Pacific Ocean, ready to begin our turnaround trip to Charleston, SC. Pat, the Green Party’s 2004 Vice Presidential candidate and my friend, rode shotgun on this EPIC Journey retracing Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath route. 

Anyone interested in living off the grid, visit my (almost) namesake community, Niland, CA. A few miles inland, General Patton trained WWII troops, leaving behind concrete slabs where military barracks stood. Now thousands of displaced people take advantage of free land. Slab City shows how far standards of living, albeit gratis, can slide.

Next up, Phoenix. This community, on some levels, diligently tries to help adults and families in homeless situations. We visited the amazing UMOM shelter, a must-stop for any campaign itinerary. And we bravely set foot in the lion’s den—the shrine where infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio hangs his six-shooter. Pat’s interviewing skills, combined with photos I took, give a disconcerting look at this 80-year-old lawless-lawman. ( Blog, photos, and transcripts)

Las Cruces, NM, a pleasant mid-sized city on the edge of TX and Mexico, offers another look at poverty. Since they have no shelters, a select group of homeless adults have been allowed to set up a small, municipally-sanctioned tent city on the campus of Mesilla Valley Community of Hope. Nice for adults, but still families have no shelter.

The drive across non-Interstate roads in TX gives a chance to see what life in the Lone Star State can be like for the neglected bottom rungs of America’s lopsided economy. Pat was appropriately aghast at these sights—ghost towns. The quantity of shuttered businesses and “for sale by owner” signs has increased, even since my September drive through this area. No surprise…but our reality-blinded elected officials and wannabes sure haven’t paid this any mind.

Austin, TX, where Gov. “Good Hair” Perry hangs his Stetson, offers a perspective—fancy hotels, restaurants and boutiques for the haves; boarded-up neighborhoods, no grocery stores and plenty of unemployment for the have-nots. Thankfully, we were able to share stories of kids experiencing homelessness with UT social work students and community members. Pat learned—and wrote about—an alarming fact: 1 of every 10 homeless kids is in TX.

Our last sprint required Interstates to get from Austin to Charleston, SC in time for our last events. Stephanie Whalen, an enthusiastic MSW student at the University of South Carolina, interning at the impressive Crisis Ministries in Charleston, lured the Babes of Wrath to this mostly-affluent city.

She astutely figured we weren’t the type to shop in the high-end downtown boutiques. Nope. She gave us a tour—of the poverty-ravaged neighborhoods  (photos) in Charleston and surrounding communities. She showed us drug houses where the wealthy as well as the downtrodden came for their fixes. We learned about the herculean efforts of the Crisis Ministries legal beagle, Jeff Yungman and his team, whittling away homelessness by reducing legal issues.

Having worked in the “poverty industry” since the mid-80s, I’m seldom surprised at what I see or hear when it comes to homelessness. This trip was no exception. But for those—especially political candidates—who don’t see what we’ve seen, a poverty/homelessness tour would offer a rare—and enlightening, if not dismaying—look at the issue besieging millions of our brothers and sisters.