Sunday, May 27, 2012

I was riding alone on a train in Germany one evening when a friendly young man struck up a conversation with me. His name was Martin and he writes scripts for German television shows. We spoke about the differences--pro and con--between Germany and the U.S. Martin told me about his recent trip to Los Angeles, his first visit to the U.S. He had arrived at LAX in the evening and took a taxi into downtown L.A., excited about seeing the city. He told me that what he saw shocked him. The condition of the downtown area and the number of homeless wandering the streets were beyond anything he had expected. The taxi driver refused to let Martin out of the cab to walk about, instead driving him to the relative safety of his hotel.

I had just spent a week walking around Martin's city of Munich, including the supposedly "seedy" central train station. I never felt anxious or in any potential danger; never saw anyone who was obviously homeless and, in all that time, encountered a grand total of 2 panhandlers.

I asked Martin, "The things that cause homelessness: unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental health issues, teenage runaways, etc.--these are universal problems. I'm sure they happen here in Munich as well as in Los Angeles. And Munich is an expensive city to live in. So why do you think there are some many homeless people on the streets of L.A. and so few here?" Martin thought for a few moments and then shook his head, "I don't know," he said "I guess maybe we take care of our people."

I didn't know how to respond.


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