Nothing brings perspective on the privilege of one's life of voluntary frugality in the service of self-determined goals like an evening spent with people who are homeless, or insecurely housed.
Today is the national "Point in Time Homeless Count". Across the country, extensive efforts are made to count the number of people who are homeless on this particular night (and those who are "staying with a friend" or "couch surfing" or "doubled up" are not included in this count). Some additional information is collected about each individual's gender, race and ethnicity, and veteran status, as well as any long-term disabling conditions that make it difficult to work and/or be housed.
Ideally the information obtained from the count can be used to increase and target funding and services for people experiencing homelessness.
For the second year in a row, I participated in this count at a local, weekly church dinner. It's held in the basement of a Methodist church each Wednesday night, rain or shine (or snow and ice), and has been for several years. The evening began with a prayer, and ended with a warm meal and fellowship and music. Coffee, soup, salad, sandwiches, burritos, and dessert were served, day-old bread and boxes of baby spinach and donated socks and shirts were available for the taking. Attendees included the housed and unhoused, young (several kids) and old, veterans, families, single people, friends. Most of the ten people that I talked to said that they were camping outside in tents. About 60% had some kind of a disabling condition. People participated graciously; only a few chose not to be interviewed (bus passes were offered as a thank-you).
108 people were served dinner tonight--they ran out of food. At the end of the evening, the pastor offered dinner to the surveyors, and then realized that there was no more left. Everything eaten.
Terrible as this sounds, I then went to a local pub with two fellow surveyors (and coworkers) to have a beer and share some pulled-pork fries ($8.50). As I commented on my sense of unease, my colleague suggested that the greater privilege was where we were going next--driving away, to our homes.
And I would add: the choices we have.
Total spent today: $3.58 (pasta sauce) plus $8.50 (eating out) = $12.58