The canariat

I was greeted this morning on my way into town by a homeless man who hits me up for meals from time to time. He smiled as he approached and I braced myself for the ask, but it never came. A wink and a wave and he was gone.

Had  somebody else bought him breakfast, I wondered? And just how large might his safety net of benefactors be? I pictured dozens of us unknown to one another, Mr. Monday Lunch and Miss Tuesday Dinner, Mrs. Sunday Brunch and Mr. Saturday Beer.

Which reminded me of the city official who’d stopped at my table a few days earlier. I was having coffee with a friend and when the conversation turned from downtown Greenville’s off-the-leash prosperity to its homeless population,  the city official asked if I’d read Deb Richardson Moore’s book, The Weight of Mercy. I had, I told him.

Never give them money, he said. Give them firewood and they’ll sell it to buy drugs, he said. Where I’d read compassion, he’d read cautionary tales, but like the blind men and the elephant, both of us might have been working with too little information.

TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans in a 12.21.13 piece titled “It’s a wonderful life, for a few of us” talks about the widening income gap and the rise of a social class he calls the “precariat”, people who, though employed, have no secure connection to nor reasonable expectation of anything whatsoever.

But my homeless acquaintance, who I think it’s safe to assume isn’t employed, knows an even lower circle of Hell. His stratum is the “canariat”, that place where all the  human canaries are keeling over in their cages at the mouth of our socio-economic coal mine.

And where the smart miners will drop their shovels and flee.

Assuming that flight is still possible.

And there’s someplace to go.