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Representative Roger Marshall is facing criticism about comments he made about health care and the poor.  (photo: John Hanna/AP)

Rep. Roger Marshall, (R-Kan.), a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus, said comments he made to STAT were not meant to suggest that poor people take health care for granted. The comments were published in a story last week about his burgeoning role in the fight to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’ ” Marshall said in response to a question about Medicaid, which expanded under Obamacare to more than 30 states. “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

He added that “morally, spiritually, socially,” the poor, including the homeless, “just don’t want health care.”  – From the Washington Post, yesterday, by Kristine Phillips.  

Ah, yes. I wonder if Representative Marshall knows any poor people beyond being a doctor to some? Sounds like the lies I’ve heard all of my adult life: “the homeless just don’t want to be housed. Black people just want to live in ghettos. Latino people just don’t want to play by US rules. Prisoners re-commit crimes because they want to be back in prison. Muslims are secretly plotting to destroy all of us non-Muslims. Women actually want to be raped when they put on a slinky red dress.…”. 

In addition, the AARP might have a new one to offer: “Older persons living on small fixed incomes just want to give 30-60% of that income to healthcare.”

****

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Dottie, center, along with two other friends who’ve experienced homelessness as part of their journeys.

Let me tell you about Dottie.  Dottie lived in her van for the final 9 years of her life.  Dottie was part of our DOOR Los Angeles program, educating people about the realities of living on the streets in Hollywood.  Once, a visiting mission trip leader asked, “Dottie, why don’t you just get help and check into a shelter?”  Her reply was, “At this point, I’d rather live on the streets.”

[Pause.  I saw the man nodding his head because he had satisfied his assumption that “some people just aren’t going to take care of themselves.”  He was able to sit comfortably “knowing” that Dottie’s situation is all her fault, that some people just don’t want to deal with responsibility, etc.]

So, I exercised my moderator privileges and asked her, “Dottie, can you explain what you mean by ‘at this point?'”

Dottie did,  I’ll summarize.  Dottie is a small woman who worked every day of her adult life.  Dottie was a managing waitress at Denny’s in Woodland Hills, and in her late 50s, collided with another waitress in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator, falling and breaking her hip.  Dottie applied for worker’s compensation, received it, was able to get some health care for her hip but never fully healed.  After 9 months of recovery, she found that Denny’s would not hire her back.  She looked for work elsewhere, and learned that her worker’s comp record followed her, and that employers were “leery to hire her for fear she might pull a stunt like that again.”  She said, “if I knew then what I know now, I would never have exercised that privilege, it’s ruined me.”  She never fully healed, still walked with a limp, and was never able to find stable work again as a 60 year old woman.   This led her into homelessness.

[Pause, again: I can attest to this reality too, mildly.  We are on the verge of buying a home in Detroit and have to apply for homeowner’s insurance.  Because we had luggage stolen in LA in 2016 and I had called our renter’s insurance to inquire about coverage (but did not even file a claim), that note was on our insurance record.  I was told by two companies that they were unwilling to cover our home because of that theft blip.  I heard that if I’m the type of person who is susceptible to theft in one residence, I’m more likely to be stolen from again.  I wish I had never called to ask.]

Dottie started living in her van with her large dog Trixie.  Trixie was her only true friend for years, and kept her safe when she had to panhandle at the end of the months.  If she fell asleep, she felt safe by Trixie’s side.  If a man came up to take advantage of her (and her stories of sexual advances are beyond the pale), Trixie growled.  Trixie was her shelter.  And it is important to know, then, that shelters were not accepting pets at that time.  So, in Dottie’s estimation, going to a shelter meant risking separation from Trixie and in LA, with 50,000-80,000 homeless folks but only 13,000-15,000 shelter beds, there was no guarantee she was going to be taken in, and then no guarantee that if she was taken in, there would be an apartment waiting for her at the other end.  What was certain, to her, was that the chance of losing Trixie was too much to bear.

And, she added, she had tried shelters for a time.  She was abused by shelter staff, beat up by another woman, and was not interested in re-living anything like this.

I asked her, “if you could have a home or even your own apartment, would you prefer that to sleeping on the streets.”

Her response: “absolutely.  But the hoops you have to jump through are confusing and dangerous too.  I’ve come to make a life for myself.  I care for the other homeless folks who live around me and that’s okay for now.  I just hope, and for those of you who pray ask that you pray for me, that I don’t die alone, as I’ve seen too many of us go that way.”

Dottie did not die alone.  Many of us visited her in hospice care at the end of her life.  Dottie had also found a trusted partner in a man named Brian who was by her side every last moment.

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From Dottie’s Memorial in 2011, pictured with Trixie

Dottie was a complicated and wonderful woman.  I came to learn she had also struggled with heroine throughout her life, and of course, that has bearing on this story.  But should we assume that she wanted to be homeless?  Should we assume that she didn’t want to be well?  Should we assume that, if the path was cleared and looked safe, she would rather live the hard life she was living?  Should we wonder if heroine was one of the ways she chose to cope?  Should we listen to her story?

When Charlotte, our first daughter was born, Dottie bought her a piggy bank.

*******

Do the lawmakers in charge of writing these new rules into legislation understand how hard it is to get out of the cycle of poverty once you’ve been, either, born there, or suddenly found yourself there?  There are always exceptions, but there are still many more Dottie’s than the one’s who manage to eke through.

We have a national leader now who has made a career out of lying to turn business deals in his favor.  He slanders people left and right to make himself look better.  All the time.  He lives, braggadociously I might add, by the phrase, “there’s no right or wrong in business, just good and bad business.” I am in deep despair over how many Christians idolize 45, and I pray they wake up soon before America is made very less great again.

One way: get to know some retired persons facing skyrocketing costs and pay attention to what part of town they live in. Get to know some fathers and mothers who’ve spent years in prison away from their kids for having made the “good business” decision to sell anything they could to put food on the table when factories shipped jobs overseas. Get to know some people who’ve crossed the border to do the same for their kids when American companies decimated farmland they, or their families, used to and make a living from. Get to know a Japanese person who spent years growing up in Manzanar. Get some food in Dearborn at a family owned restaurant and ask the owner if he’s secretly trying to kill you with his grandmother’s hummus recipe. Get to know an actual, living, breathing woman who has to deal with sexism on a daily basis.

In all my readings of the Bible, I believe this is close to the heart of what Jesus means.

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’” – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭25:37-40‬ ‭MSG‬‬

And the verse Marshall mentioned in this article, that the poor will always be with us, it was meant to reflect the brokenness of humanity and also to still need to still carve time to spend with Jesus!  Read the actual verse here.  It was not meant to justify sitting on a higher class horse and making up lies, or bearing false witness, about those with less.  Later in the article, he does start to note this, but he has already done so much intentional damage in spreading a political lie.

The actual reasons people fail to get healthcare, recommit crimes, desperately seek physical attention, and stay in the cycle they are in is because our society is designed to favor people who look like me and people who have most of the money. We justify: “well, they’ve earned it, (without ever wondering if they might have mis-earned it), or “this country was built by hard working European immigrants” (casually forgetting that this land was stolen and most of our most iconic national buildings were built by stolen and cheap labor).

Let’s tell the whole truth. This law would give great tax relief to people who don’t really need it, and puts the burden back on people who do, and even suggesting the blame lies on our poorer and older citizens hides the deeply problematic system designed to benefit only some of us.

+Matthew John Schmitt – The Table Setters

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