However despite how great of a guy he was, he lived and still lives in poverty. I suppose by census standards he doesn't, but the amount he earns is barely enough to cover his necessities. Indeed, he often keeps his air conditioner completely off on in brutal Texas for days. In between payments on his used car and his rent, sometimes he manages to find some money for food. He often would come over talking about how he had nothing to eat all day, due to the fact he literally had no food. I am not sure how well he managed his finances, but with how little he made its easy to see how that could happen.
There was a time he lost his job and went on social security. He lived in government housing and was not allowed to make more than $16 otherwise he would be kicked out. The management would have his room searched to make sure he was not earning "too much." If he dared to succeed even a little bit he would be kicked back into the real world to struggle paying his bills.
The system was entirely set up against him. Indeed it would have almost been better for him to stay unemployed and live off of the government than to get a job. Yet he wanted to work, and work he did. He got a job and went back to earning a pittance that barely covered his needs.
There is one more element to this story. He was and is slightly mentally handicapped. The fact he was economically "expendable" was of no fault of his own. Yet the ruthless laws of economics determined that he could not earn a wage that would allow him some financial security. In such cases, the community must step in to help.
One form of "community" help was the government supported living situation I just described. Ironically this program setup to help people in poverty does nothing to get them out. Indeed, it seemed to work hard to keep them in, rather than help them get out. I don't know how not allowing someone to earn any money to earn government benefits helps them get on their feet at all. All it does is trap poor people like my family friend in poverty. After all, the rational choice honestly in several cases is to stay on welfare and forego the job market. Yet in the long run, staying out of the job market prevents the welfare recipients from developing marketable skills, further ensnaring them in the system.
The other form of community help is the voluntary aspect. Generosity that arises within the hearts of families, friends, and organizations for their fellow man. The family friend was a man of faith and was a part of a church. While he sporadically switched churches often, he did have a community of friends he met within such institutions that helped him get by. My family would help him occasionally, and some other friends of his let him stay with them for a while. Others would give him food occasionally. My family would let him feast whenever he came over. His brother paid for him to go on vacation with him. Such generosity came from the heart and was directed towards him because of his need, not because of his employment status.
I just wrote this to remind everyone that there are many people out there that are scraping by from day to day, and often have little resources of their own to get out of their situation. Since often we isolate ourselves physically and socially from those "beneath" us financially, its easy to turn a blind eye to the problems of many. Instead we comfort ourselves that charities and the government are taking care of the problem. However the problem with these institutions is that the anonymous nature of their giving and policies guarantees that they will not specifically target the needs of their recipients to maximum effect. Giving food to someone that has plenty of food for example, does little to alleviate their need for a working car, for example. Thats why I think we must all be mindful of the role we play in the lives of those around us. We are just as much each other's "safety net" as any government program or charity.