Great big melting bags of ice

Latrobe, PA-Greensburg, PA, 11.4 miles

For whatever reason, since I have been walking I have not gone a day without eating ice cream. Some days I find myself stopping for ice cream more than once a day. So when as I came across Peaches ‘n Cream on Route 30 in Greensburg there was little question I would be stopping in. A twist with chocolate sprinkles please.

While I sat and ate my cone a guy at the next picnic table inquired as to my backpack. As it turned out it was the owner, Jim Peach. For the next hour we engaged in a political debate as to whether those who find themselves homeless and in poverty have the means to lift themselves out of their circumstances through sheer hard work. It is a topic I have discussed with many others and am sure will discuss again soon. While I disagreed with Mr. Peach in many ways, I will concede on one point: those who are poor yet unwilling to work hard are not entitled to a handout. He said he is willing to give anyone a meal and a place to stay. But, he said, he expects that in return said person is willing to sweep the floor, wash dishes or work for their supper in some other way. It was his opinion that many in poverty are unwilling to accept low wage work and expect the government to give them a handout.

Though Mr. Peach has a point, his belief that people are not willing to work hard is incorrect. There are millions in this country who work hard at jobs that offer low pay and deplorable working conditions. Millions of people work hard but never get ahead. Many of the opportunities in life come as a result of the economic circumstances into which we are born, with a bit of brains, hard work, and luck tossed into the mix. I cannot blame someone for not wanting to work 80 hours a week just to earn a living that will never reach the level of even lower middle class. Yes there is a certain self respect that comes from hard work and standing on one’s own two feet. But if my options were back-breaking work for 80 hours a week with no chance of getting ahead, or accepting a government check, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t pick the latter.

Later that day I found myself sitting on a bench with a homeless man outside the Giant Eagle grocery store. While I iced my ankle and ate my dinner I shared my food with the man, who first said his name was Dave and later said it was Rick. (He also told me he’d been in the military for 70 years.) For those who think being homeless and living off the government is the easy path, I ask this: how easy is it to spend the night on a bench in front of grocery store under the florescent lighting and stinking of your own urine? It’s no way to live.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper