Yesterday, Michelle Obama became the first presidential spouse to volunteer at Miriam’s Kitchen, a 26+ year free meals program located near the White House. Her gesture was meant to inspire volunteerism to help the less fortunate. Instead, it has turned our nation into a bunch of chatty Cathy’s asking one question: Where did the homeless guy get the cell phone camera?
Here’s the background from the LA Times:
The first lady served up mushroom risotto and broccoli to a long line of homeless men and women during part of her lunch hour and in these photos poses for a picture by one homeless diner obviously excited to be in the first lady’s presence.
Obama said she hoped her service would cause other Americans to volunteer to help the less fortunate in their own communities.
And here’s a sampling of the blabbering blogosphere. First, the LA Times:
It doesn’t detract from the first lady’s generous gesture or the real needs she seeks to highlight to ask two bothersome journalistic questions about these news photos:
If this unidentified meal recipient is too poor to buy his own food, how does he afford a cellphone? And if he is homeless, where do they send the cellphone bills?
Next, conservative Michelle Malkin:
Via Andrew Malcolm, here is one of the homeless cell phone owners snapping a pic of First Lady Michelle Obama – ruining what was supposed to be a sob story photo op of the compassionate Mrs. O catering to the downtrodden.
Some folks are wondering where the cell phone bills get sent. The answer is obvious: ACORN headquarters.
I realize half the nation will lose sleep worrying about this issue unless these questions are addressed. So if I may…
First, let’s point out the assumptions these critics are making. For one, they assume that every person seeking a meal at a soup kitchen is destitute or homeless. This is not always the case. Staffers may partake of the food line fare (especially with the first lady shows up to serve). It’s also possible this man is “doubled up”, recently unemployed, or working poor. In any of these situations, he could have a cell phone from a previous life when money wasn’t so tight.
Where is his phone bill is being mailed? If he’s not actually homeless or if he’s doubled up, that’s easy enough to figure out. It’s also common for transitional shelters to accept mail for guests. Many homeless folks also use post office boxes for their personal mail.
But let’s get down to the most important question: Assuming this man is homeless. why is it a big deal if he has a cell phone?
We expect way too much of poor people in this country. Let’s face it, you’d have to be a magician with inpenatrable immune system to stretch a minimum-wage job to cover housing, transportation, food, healthcare, childcare and other incidental expenses. We expect homeless people to compete in the workforce without a cell phone, regular computer access, or proper interview attire while struggling to survive on the streets or in shelter. We hear so many amazing stories of people who have successfully fought their way out of homelessness that it becomes too easy to forget how challenging it actually is to beat the odds and get off the streets.
So yes, this guy has a cell phone. If this means he has an important job-searching tool, a way for him to keep in touch with loved ones, or a way to call for help if he becomes the next victim of a hate crime, then we should be grateful that programs exist to provide these invaluable services to folks who are struggling.
Finally, if that cell phone camera allows this man to snap a picture when he’s starstruck by an unexpected encounter with the first lady, good for him. He’ll have at least one inspiring memory from the difficult circumstances that led him to Miriam’s Kitchen in the first place.