The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
That guilty feeling
Last night, on the train home, a couple got on and immediately proceeded to have an argument that the whole carriage became privvy to. Lots of eyeball rolling and looking in the other direction by passengers, etc. This couple was obviously "living on the dole," and if you judge people by the way they dress and talk, weren't the sharpest tools in the shed.

Just before their stop, the man went up and down the carriage asking people for money. He was politely declined by everyone within earshot, including yours truly, who is all too familiar with the "want something for nothing Houso" crowd, having lived in a town reknowned for them. Both man and woman were covered in tattoos, had the pallor and speech of alcoholics, and looked like they hadn't been to a dentist - ever.

For a moment, I felt a pang of guilt for turning down their request for cash. I have a son with problems, and although he isn't an alcoholic, other "problems" keep him from functioning in society. He doesn't get free housing in the USA, unless you consider an overcrowded dorm-like warehouse "shelter" that he has to report to every day to see if there's room, to be subsidised housing. In Australia, many welfare recipients are given townhouse apartments to live in, as well as collect Centrelink welfare payments. Thinking of my son, and those even worse off than him, I felt guilty only for an instant.

When they alighted the train, I saw that the man retrieved a surround sound stereo system setup - new in the box. I can't even afford such a thing - along with my husband, I'm too busy paying bills and helping to keep a roof over our heads.

Some people do deserve extra help - but when they have more than the average working person, there's something wrong with the system. And it makes it harder for those who truly do need extra help to get it, as sympathy amongst the public becomes frayed. So - I don't feel guilty this time around. I'd rather give to a shelter. Of course, it's possible I should cut them some slack. The dichotomy of expensive electronic equipment and hitting people up for cash was rather humourous..
posted by Melanie O. at 11:54 AM -
  • At 9:30 PM, Blogger gardenbug said…

    YOur blog reminds me when I was teaching in a poverty intervention program: some of our clients had a princess phone...a luxury at the time. One had a pool table that was thrown out and left at the curb. The family retrieved the table, took it home and played pool all day..avoiding the "dip" on the table. I was working non-stop at the time and observing them having the leisure to play pool or talk on their designer phone. I think only people at the top or at the bottom of the economic pile have leisure time. All the rest of us are pretty busy. My guess is they know they don't have much and decide that at least they will have one status symbol to make themselves feel good. That's why we see people poorly dressed without dental care, driving a luxury car...needing repairs.

  • At 10:52 AM, Blogger LivinginOz said…

    That could very well be. Unfortunately, I live in a "welfare state" so that people who don't work, work the system and have plasma TV's, game systems for their kids, and home theatre systems. (Minto, where Dan and I lived when we were first married, was full of these housing estates. ) When the Macquarie Fields riots happened a couple of years ago, someone was interviewed about the illegality of young men stealing cars - which is what led to the riots. The resident's response? "How else were they going to get home?"

    I think we have a responsibility to people who are disabled or mentally ill or who are temporarily down on their luck, but when we provide everything, including job training and back to work programs that people ignore because it's easier getting things without working for them, then the system really needs to be looked at, in my opinion. We've got multigenerational welfare families who really don't know anything else. And it's our own fault. (My political rant for the year...)

  • At 4:06 AM, Blogger gardenbug said…

    Where I lived, there used to be similar thoughts reflected in letters to the editor in the newspapers and editorials. We had families that had children just for the child support so they could stay on the dole. They stayed on the program generation after generation. The system was revised to a program of welfare to work. If they don't go to work, they lose their benefits. This resulted in a lot of fat minorities working in nursing homes as aides....doing as little as possible, hanging out in the break room in a group, gossiping. They don't have a work ethic...the people I observed. My statement of course, does not apply to everybody...just my own observations. The result of welfare to work was a lot of people lost their benefits when they proved that they could become self sustaining citizens.

  • At 8:23 AM, Blogger LivinginOz said…

    Here, we've got the "baby bonus," where the government pays you when you have children. It used to be a lump sum of several thousand dollars, after which young parents would run out and buy plasma TVs and other expensive items for their house, instead of investing it for their new children. I think that the government has seen that this is problematic and now they're spreading the payments out over several months.

    I don't know how you can teach an adult a work ethic. That's something you learn when you're at your mother's knee. There are plenty of people who need help temporarily because they're just down on their luck - got laid off from their jobs or find themselves single parents because the other parent left the family - and then there are the multigenerational dole recipients who give everyone else a bad name (at least here.) Not sure what the answer is. It's too easy to take handouts.

  • At 4:52 PM, Blogger Kanani said…

    Seems like they're used to getting what they want when they want it. Your handout wouldn't have meant a thing to them --only confirmation that they need never to change their lives.

    So good for you resisting their request for money.

    You really have to judge all situations uniquely. I've been known to put five bucks into the cart of homeless people who were obviously schizophrenic or some other mental health ailment when I've seen them asleep at the Costco outside on the benches. Or there's a guy outside of my favorite café who always offers to wash car windows. I don't know his history, but no doubt he's on some sort of assistance (he's a bit off), and hey --he's offering to do some work. So I'll pay him, as well.

    But people like the couple you met? No way.

  • At 6:56 PM, Blogger LivinginOz said…

    Kanani - that is so true. I've gone out of my way to purchase food for people with "will work for food" signs, and have given spare change to people who have been stranded and really seemed down on their luck. I think you do have to judge each case on its own merit. This couple wasn't homeless, nor did they seem to be without anything, except some good manners and an education. Because I work for a charity, when approached by people on the street for a handout, I tell them about the charity and offer to help them get immediate assistance and long term accommodation. I'm always turned down.

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About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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