It is Saturday night and the city is well lit with thousands of lights. The snow has given a white clean appearance to much of what usually is dark and dirty and the black sky is almost perfect. The air is so crisp and fresh that it almost hurts when one takes in a deep breath of air. Yet behind all the whiteness and freshness lies the history of a people who cannot fit into this scene. A people whose faces show the deep wrinkles of hardness, dark eyes that stare with hatred, a evil expression which overpowers a blessed smile, hands which spontaneously react to everything with a strong defense, and feet which tread the wide dizzy circle of confusion and disturbance which leads and ends in destruction.
As one passes through the slums and ghettoes he finds many broken windows replaced with cardboard. As the residents walk and roam the streets there is a grind and crunch from the glass under their feet. Messy homes and streets grow continually worse while one stands and looks in at this sight of such disorder and questions how these people can survive. There is also the endless screaming of children, fighting, and throwing of glass and rocks heard.
There are now some 2.5 million Americans living in public housing projects in the large cities. In 1953 26% of the 400,000 families in public housing were getting welfare. Ten years later it was 60% and today in some places it is 90%. To these people, education does not spell success and therefore jobs cannot be found. The crime rate in these areas is unbelievable and robberies, thefts, and rapes are daily occurrences. Vandalism and juvenile delinquency is incredible and has almost become a way of life to the bored teenage boy. As children grow up in this situation, the first feeling of success that is learned is how to successfully fight.
In spite of the established housing project, time has proven that the project is not very successful. Many still are unable to free themselves from poverty. The help is not extensive enough to affect the problem of developing their attitude or character. In order to reach the goal of helping the ghettoes and slums, housing projects must touch the many other aspects of their life which are so sadly underdeveloped and warped. As one of the housing officials has stated, “You cannot isolate housing and try to solve it by itself.” Unless the areas are reached where they are needed, they will remain a starving people.
The most common family situations found in the ghettoes and slums has the mother acting as head of the home with fathers hardly, if at all, known by their children. They maintain little discipline or order and there is no teaching of any kind. Everyone runs about trying to make it for himself. What is so extremely dreadful about all this is that these people die never receiving or giving in life that which is free — and who is to blame? There is little realization of what it means to give pity or to be pitied, to be able to sit silently in tears and be able to feel concern without having to scream, throw stones, or pull a knife. They often live without any understanding of peace within themselves or ever seeing it in another person. There are few established feelings between parent and child, brother and sister, or even between friend and friend. Rather, relationships vary from week to week, day to day, and minute to minute. They have to forever be living against each other in order to make it for themselves. As far as the beauty in sharing with each other is concerned, it is seldom understood by them. They live as a forever defeated people.
I cannot begin to understand why (though it is evident to all that housing projects have failed their purpose and that the United States is the world’s wealthiest nation) more consideration is given to that which is less important than to the lives of people who make up part of the United States itself.
Perhaps many concerned Americans have given up their fight against this horrible problem of poverty and broken lives and homes. Perhaps this is why millions of dollars are now spent on such things as space programs where man can immediately see the power and success of themselves. Americans everywhere are beginning to see that mere dollars and cents cannot heal the deep wounds of broken lives, but there must be given a much greater help that leads even into the deepest, yet smallest spot in the heart of man.