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Common Sense: A Musing by Jim Burklo


Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By Craig Wiesner

Mitt Romney’s 47% comments have really been on my mind the last few days. Two things prompted me to post something here today. One, I had a long conversation with a homeless man who came by our shop on Friday. Two, Rev. Jim Burklo shared a new “musing” somewhat inspired by Gov. Romney’s secretly videotaped musings. I’ll share a bit about my Friday conversation, share all of Jim’s musing, and then close with a bit about how it all fits together.

And… in case you’re wondering, the photo to the left is not Rev. Burklo or our homeless friend, it is Thomas Paine. You’ll get the connection when you read Jim’s musing.

In 2007 Mark (not his real name) had a good job, a small apartment, a little bit of savings, and a pretty normal life. When the Great Recession hit he lost his job and his health care. For a few months he was able to hold onto his apartment but he got hit by a really bad medical condition that hit his legs hard, and things started to go down hill quickly. Soon money got too short and he ended up living in his car. His main focus was on getting his legs back in working shape so he did physical therapy every day until he was able to walk well again. That took around a year.

When his health improved enough so that he could walk well, he thought that one way he could make a living was going back to something he’d done many years ago, washing windows. He wandered from shop to shop and house to house offering his services. When he came into our shop for the first time I had no idea that this articulate, healthy-looking, friendly, handsome, 60-something year old gentleman (and I use that term on purpose) could possibly have been homeless. Having been in our shop for only a few months, I had learned that the art of “traveling salesman” had not disappeared after my grandfather had mastered it. In fact, we had traveling salesmen coming into the shop all the time. A window washer seemed like just another entrepreneur.

Mark did all the windows lining the front of our shop and they looked great. His price? $20. Not bad for about 45 minutes work.

Over the last two years I learned that Mark was, in fact, homeless. He’d lost the car after it died and he couldn’t afford the repairs. You can live in a car as long as the car can move from place to place. Once the car dies, you’re just a short time away from the police taking it away… and they did.

On Friday this week he hung out in the shop for around an hour, and, because I asked a lot of questions, I got to learn much more of his story. Right now he’s got congestive heart failure and a couple of plugged arteries that need stents. He sleeps in an alley and would give anything to have a car, any working car, that he could sleep in instead of on the street. A car could also help him go a little further with his window-washing business. He doesn’t use drugs. He doesn’t have any mental problems. He doesn’t drink. I could have guessed all of that from the conversations I’d had with him in the past.

With a little bit of help he could start climbing out of the hole he’s in, but he doesn’t want that help to come from the government. The government would force him to do things their way (true), including forcing him to live where they wanted him to live (also true). He doesn’t want to be dependent, even though, as a veteran, he is ENTITLED to help from the VA. So where does a guy like him fall in Mitt Romney’s 47% v 53%?