I didn’t dare go to my very busy pharmacy and stand in line for a prescription, so I used Instacart and a youngish petite blond woman delivered it. We are all using delivery services more these days. Their employees take the chances we are not willing to take, and fulfill a service without which our lives would substantially loose quality and comforts. In addition they are instrumental to our being able to stay safe. We are grateful, yes, yet they are the lowest paid. They have to use their own cars and are not reimbursed for the wear and tear. The husband of a house cleaner I know was a Uber driver and needed new tires which he could not afford, a scenario many of those workers surely face. Even more relevant in an era when health care is more crucial than usual, they have no health benefits. We like the cheap services. Would we use Instacart as much if the charges were higher? And if they were, for many they would no longer be affordable. It’s also the same conflict many of us have with using Amazon, a company who pays their warehouse and delivery workers so little. There are signs that after the pandemic eases the delivery businesses will have to change. There are pressures for them to do so, economic, social, legal. The result is likely to lead to higher prices for having things delivered. When that happens, for it is inevitable, how will our gratitude for all the delivery workers who cushion our lives extend to accept higher charges so that they can have better salaries and better benefits?
In Maduro’s Venezuela one out of every three is malnourished and hungry, among those who may be considered more middle class it’s one in five. In Northern Syria, there are over 900,000 people caught in the war there, and 13 million Syrians have already been displaced. The near one million refugees have no place to go, no one to turn to. It’s been so cold, several children have frozen to death. In Kashmir, the government continues its limited Internet access and other restrictions against the mainly Muslim state, not to speak of the recent riots in New Delhi which is causing many to flee because Muslims are no longer wanted in those areas. In China the Muslim Uighurs are being put in so called reeducation camps for the slightest action, such as growing a beard. In Yemen war rages, in Libya, anarchy continues, in several countries, refugees keep coming and find no refuge, no let up to their angst and difficulties, no escape from poverty, sometimes no way to survive. I could go on about the suffering of the world, and yes these are man-made problems, and because they are man-made they are even harder to resolve, because the human imperfections that caused them still exist. There may be very little we can do, but we can remember these lives, learn from their courage, their fortitude, be inspired by how they endure and handle their suffering, be humbled by their strength and bravery and most of all remember them because their problems dwarf ours no matter how serious ours may be.
Human Rights Watch has just compiled a report tracking what happens to refugees and asylum seekers who return to El Salvador. Its findings are a blow to one’s conscience. At least 200 El Salvadorans migrants or asylum seekers have been killed, raped or tortured after being deported. HRW traced 138 Salvadorans who were killed by gang members, police, soldiers, death squads and ex partners between 2013 and 2019. The 70 others were subject to beatings, sexual assault and extortion. Of course El Salvador is one of the most violent countries, and many have sought to leave. A measure of this is that from 2014 to 2018 the US deported 111,000 Salvadorans but only granted asylum to 18.2% of those who applied for it. It does not mean that those who were deported fared well. They just were not part of those HRW tracked. Obviously current policy had a big role to play in all this but too it brings to mind a larger issue. Although some means are in place, the world tends to not respond, or not adequately respond, to humanitarian crises. Politics, often under the guise of sovereignty, more often than not interferes. The tragedy in Northern Syria is but one example. The death of those Salvadorans, the fate of those deported, and the need for people to leave El Salvador to begin with reach deep into many aspects of the foreign and humanitarian aid communities. Regardless, we must find better ways, ways free of politics, to address those crises wherever they are. As a civilization, a world, a country, we must institute whatever is needed to help those in need survive, whatever it is we might want if we were in that position.
Homelessness is now well-known as a national problem, one that had been worse in California. As I follow the progress of this issue I rarely read something that to me at least addresses a potential real solution. Mainly because I’ve been wondering who understands the source of the problem, until I read a NYT piece on Dr. Margot Kushel, a longtime advocate for the homeless, now director of the Benioff Homelessness Initiative at UCSF which has a $30 million endowment from the billionaire Salesforce founder. She reminds us that we know what works: Housing First, programs where finding housing is the first and fundamental step to being able to help many who are homeless. But she also acknowledges that “We’ve always known that homelessness is a result, pure and simple, of poverty: the lack of a living wage, the lack of affordable housing and the insidious impact of racism. If we don’t fix the fundamentals, we are just patching a leaking ship. And that is what has happened.”
In my neighborhood as in many others new apartment buildings are going up on almost every block, apartments which are by law exempt from rent control and called luxury units partly to justify their high rents with a slew of amenities. These units are touted by many in politics and elsewhere as the answer to homelessness—implying that a shortage of units is what makes rents unaffordable. And yet when one remembers as was the topic of a post not long ago, that 44% of the labor force work at low paying jobs, economic inequality does seem to emerge as an underlying cause of homelessness. As the California legislature is struggling to come up with a new version of recently defeated AB 50 which wanted to supersede local zoning laws to be able to build more apartments such as those in my neighborhood, the views of Dr. Kushel gain added importance. Let her voice be heard.