No Room at the Inns

I bought a boat when I left my marriage, 20 years ago. It was a creaky, soggy Delta River Boat.  My kids, ages 16 and 7, and I lived on it for a year and a half. Which means two winters. The dock we were on was wobbly. It was sea worm food. Many people that lived on our dock were often struggling to get food of their own. Our lives were shaky – literally and figuratively. 

The boat never had a really working bilge pump. But there was always a Savarin coffee can at the ready to dig down into the bilge and heave water over the side. The 20-foot barge was a one-room floating tub. It was old and it had been built as a summer retreat dozens of years ago and so it was uninsulated. Some nights we all cozied up in one bed. And then there was a wild storm one night in our second February.

This night, rain pounded the world like it was the end of it. It sounded like a thousand casks of nails were being flung down upon us and our ancient boat community. I was out in an anorak capturing water from the bilge with the can and tossing it to the wind. It was so cold my hands were blue. It was late. It was also very scary.

And then it got scarier.

There was a terrible crack and a terrible boom. The dock was tearing away from the shore and the one official houseboat that was moored to the start of the dock leaned into the dark and fell over. There was the thundering of pounding feet as a dozen of the dock’s strong men appeared out of the black night with ropes as thick as your arm. My little family sat down in our tiny galley and huddled together. Waiting for the next scary moment. I started to cry. The our little drama went like this:

“Mommy, why are you crying? It’ll be all right,” said our little one. 

“I’m crying because I brought us here so I could start our lives over. Make things better. And now this! I didn’t want my children to have to go through something like THIS.” I waved my hand around at the dark, the flashing emergency lights outside and the rage of this icy, wet night.

“Mommy,” my little boy said. “Wherever you are that’s home for me.” He leaned against me and I could feel the softness of his curly head catching my tears.

My daughter was more sanguine about it, “Look Ma, we gotta remember that more than half of the world doesn’t live this good.”

And there it was.  She was so young and so sage. We had each other. We had food, clothing and shelter, such as it was. We had neighbors strong enough and knowledgeable enough and ready at the helm to keep our community from becoming a sinking vessel. We were living pretty well.  

I repeated my daughter’s observation in my mind. Most of the world really “doesn’t have it this good.” Out of the mouths of babes.

Today, right this minute, 1.6 billion people across this earth are living in “inadequate housing” No water, no bathroom, no heat. 100 Million are homeless. (1) These are horrifying facts. Millions and now billions are living lives of desperation. To change this horror, the World Cup Soccer Organization developed a partnership with the UN to find out how bad the situation was worldwide. Then these soccer heroes started to reach out  to youth in many desperate countries and neighborhoods to create new teams and to teach life skills and new directions through soccer clubs. These youthful athletes are passionate leaders guiding other youth worldwide to create new lives for themselves. These athletes do more than teach soccer. They are guiding these desperate youth out of the slums showing them skills not only in athletics but methods of succeeding. Through this help of young adult friendships they are mentoring the rising generation to the paths and new connections to succeed in the larger world. 

Why are these young athletes so passionate about their efforts? Here’s why: 

Venezuela: 90% of its people are living in poverty and 3.4 million have left the country in the last 3 years.

Mexico: 16 million live in shacks; half of all teens (21 million youths) live in poverty. 

South Africa: 79% of the population lives under the poverty line.

Russia:  The UN estimates 5 million are currently homeless.

Italy: Out of 60 million people, 5 million are living in poverty.

India: 1.8 million people are homeless and 7.3 million live in shacks. (2)

And the US? Close to 600,000 are homeless and 40 million are living in poverty. (3)

People – educated and caring people – are beginning to notice this. I feel a wave of change and I hope you do too. More honest leadership, working to make our lives more joyful and less worrisome. Less pollution, reversing climate change and creating national and state budgets that salute decent work and support decent schools. All these changes would be a good start. But housing that people can afford has to be at the top of the list. The best way to assure this is to see that everyone can work for a decent wage and there is truly health care for all workers and their families. It’s a mouthful. But it’s got to be said. And implemented. 

In this stagnant and worrisome season, let us Americans think of how we could use this time to plan to make this world better. Not just for us but for everyone. We of the privileged, educated classes have time— while sheltered in our home offices— to think and make plans for each and all of us to create a movement to do better. In this time, we have the opportunity to create and push for REAL change. For everyone. We could start right now!

Let’s change empty fair grounds and vacant malls into neighborhoods. Start with tents right away. Then bring in RVs and eventually, construct tiny houses. We don’t need all that empty space that’s used only two weeks a year. Besides lavatories and toilets, carefully tended to, let’s have medical care on site. Let’s have portable libraries and craft supplies. Small classrooms where people can learn new skills. Offices where bureaucratic issues can be attended to. Why leave all those empty lots barren when people are desperate for shelter and care? 

“Tis the season to be jolly” could be changed to “Tis the season to be caring, as if our world depended on it.” Because it does. 





Mary Ann Maggiore

Mary Ann Maggiore is a former Mayor of Fairfax elected on an environmental platform and founder of the Affordable Housing initiative and Youth Advisory there. At the same time Mary Ann served as the Executive Director of Girl Scouts Save the Bay serving 55,000 girls. Mary Ann's work has been honored by the CA Senate, CA Assembly, Working Solutions Community Innovator Award and the City of San Francisco. Today Mary Ann continues her commitment to youth as ED of LAUNCH!, Guiding Young People 18 to 30 to Meaningful Work.

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