As a rule, I don't get into political discussions with guests at the Day Center.
First reason: They are guests, and they don't come there to hear what I think about the issues of the day.
Second reason: I have a tendency to call bullshit regardless of who's spouting it, and they are guests.
This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Today, in addition to the constitutionality of a individual mandate, the court's vote will determine such issues as whether the federal government can require states to cover more of the uninsured under Medicaid.
A number of our Day Center guests benefit from Supplemental Social Security, Veteran's Administration hospitals and Medicaid. It would seem they might support expansion of federal programs that benefit the poor.
To be charitable, not everyone around here has thought about who administers their health care or how it is funded. The whole idea of pooled risk — whether through private insurance or a public program — is a bit arcane for the people I talked to. Much clearer: the idea government can't tell them what to do.
It's really too complicated for me to get into all the Fox News-infused health care discussions I had this week, but I will say this. The idea that voter ID laws will disenfranchise potential Obama voters may be off base, based on my small sample.
Each week, I watch men and women sign in for showers. In my unscientific observation, more of the homeless are left-handed compared to the general population, just as with U.S. presidents.
One of our regulars prefaced a remark about his recurring troubles with the law this way: "My real parents, my foster parents and my step parents told me..."
You can't work with the homeless and talk only of personal responsibility. So many of the people I meet have come from unstable or abusive home situations.
David is a wiry guy who hauls a trailer behind his bike. Since I last saw him, he's reworked the Burley platform to a shopping cart basket that allows him to haul more cargo.
He made the front page of the local paper awhile back for his enterprise. He's cleaning up the river bank and selling his booty to local scrap dealers.
I asked him if he'd salvaged anything weird.
He answered in the terms of a businessman, talking about volume. For the heavy stuff, he has a hand winch that he chains to a tree. The heaviest item he'd cranked out weighed 500 pounds, and when he took it to the scrap yard, they were amazed he hadn't blown his tires.
The homeless have an interesting relationship with scrap dealers.
First, the homeless scavenge metals and bring them in for sale.
Second, the homeless may be a source of illegally harvested materials — brass from irrigation lines; copper from wire or plumbing; and other metal stripped from bleachers, cars, sculptures, you name it.
Third, the homeless tend to occupy the same fringe lands left to junk yards. They can be a source of labor or irritation.
I heard about a woman and her children who lived on property owned by one of the prominent scrap dealers. They were staying in a cargo compartment stored across the river from his business.
One day, the kids yelled to their mother: "Mr. Van Gundy's throwing rocks at us!"
She went outside and saw the scrap dealer on the hill above, tossing projectiles toward their shelter.
Only later did she discover that each rock was wrapped with a twenty-dollar bill.