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Gary Horton: A sight that urges change

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: December 8, 2009 8:44 p.m.
Updated: December 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Mom was a good, exemplary parent. A product of the Depression, she came from humble roots, never got ahead of herself and always made sure there was food on the table, a roof overhead and that the bills were paid precisely on time.

I was lucky to be born to such a loving and pragmatic mom. I’ll benefit from her example always.

Decades later, my first child also taught me parental love. If you’ve got half a heart, there’s something about a bright-eyed newborn that makes the whole world vibrant, opens your soul and makes you want to do the best for both him or her and for your new family.  

Those baby eyes light the fire of love and forge a commitment to provide and protect as long as prudent and necessary.

Our parents teach examples and our children make tender our hearts. Life should be like that.

So I don’t get it when parental love and commitment falls short of the mark.

I understand we all face the lot nature and life deal us. There are no guarantees. We all struggle and suffer, some more than others.  

To some extent we live by luck. But in it all, hopefully we also live by love, decency and commitment.

So last Saturday in Ventura I was taken for a real loop. I saw the kind of thing that’s really disturbing for parents who care about kids.

Driving along Harbor Boulevard, we approached a corner under a bridge that’s almost always populated with beggars pleading for money.

If beggars bother you, this is a rough intersection to cross. The light stops forever and there’s no way to avoid eye-to-eye contact with the scene before you.

It’s there every time — the stark contrast between you comfortably in your car and the apparently homeless, begging for aid. The scenes never lose impact.

Who’s in real need — and who lives like that by choice, freeloading a hobo lifestyle? I don’t know.

Is giving the right thing to do, or does it just fuel the problem? I don’t know.

Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t and sometimes I get mad.

At this corner, on this day, I got mad. Mad because a young daughter was on display, used as a prop and a ploy for money — and it defied everything my mother and kids ever taught me.

“Homeless. Need money for food for me and daughter.” The youngish father held out the cardboard sign with an 8- or 9-year-old girl sitting by under the streetlight.

She drew in a notebook, while dad begged the cars stopped most uncomfortably at the light.

Heartstrings were pulled, and perhaps I should have given. But indignation won out, and I would have rather tossed this dad into the nearby Pacific than underwrite the abuse and manipulation of his apparent daughter.

Even in broken-down California, there’s always a way to keep your kids off the street. Section 8 housing. Emergency relief.  

Shelters. Move in with the in-laws or friends. Contact child welfare.  

But don’t drag your daughter on the street as a tool to panhandle.

Damn that man for abusing that girl. Many struggle greatly but never abuse innocent children as devices for cash.

If I sound like an anti-welfare conservative, I’m not. This man didn’t make the case for reduced government or reduced intervention.  

Rather, out on that street, sewing seeds of generational poverty, he made the case for more efficient government with a functional, purposeful social mission.

That man I could toss into the Pacific, but his daughter deserves far better from him and from us.

You think government has no place in our lives? Should we rise and fall solely on our own merit? Is liberty is the absence of government? Fine. Until you see an 8-year-old girl used as a tool, begging on a street corner.

Do any of our daughters deserve this? Damn that man, but damn us too, that we’re so inefficient with discord we don’t  have the will or apparatus to effectively intervene.

Whether the man was homeless or just manipulative, the daughter still suffers. Sure, we choose our own paths and create our own futures.

But what of children of parents falling short of the mark?

Young girls propped as begging tools have no place in a successful, progressive America. Nor do any of our truly disabled and needy.

Our fight isn’t with each other, whether government has a role in social welfare, That answer is openly on display on our street corners.

Rather, our fight and accountability should be to craft effective government and social response protecting the liberty of those too young, too ill or too powerless to secure their own way.

If you saw what I saw, you’d see it my way.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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