This morning a small article tucked into the corner of The Christian Science Monitor caught my eye. Los Angeles, with 48,000 homeless people will allow overnight sidewalk sleeping as long as access to driveways and doorways is not inhibited.

Nestled underneath this grim fact is a picture of Senator Barack Obama grooving with the Frederick Douglass High School band during a Largo, Maryland campaign stop. Somehow I just can’t wrap my brain around the idea that here we are in 2007, another presidential race gearing up, and the fundamental problems of our country seem to remain the same.

Setting the paper aside, I have visions of people lying on the sidewalks of Los Angeles, head to foot, leaving gaps for the orderly exit of cars and people. Will they be allowed to use blankets? What about air matresses and pillows? Pedestrians of course will have to navigate a bit more carefully, stepping around people and belongings. From what I remember of Los Angeles, however, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, since it seems that most everyone drives rather than walks.  I’m glad that the city of Los Angeles is letting homeless individuals sleep on the sidewalks. Everyone has to sleep after all.

I remember 20-odd years ago, I worked at a Santa Barbara hospital in the records department and routinely read the dictation notes forwarded by the hospital’s physicians. One day I came across an admittance note that listed the patient’s address as under the fig tree. Intrigued, I asked around, learning that there was one fig tree in particular under which many of the local homeless sought shelter. At that time, homeless individuals were not allowed to sleep overnight on the beaches and the fig tree had become a sort of place of refuge. While this was one of my first encounters with the idea of homelessness, it has not been my last.

Living in Las Vegas a few years ago, my son and I decided to visit the original Las Vegas settlement. As we rounded the corner to enter the homestead, my son stopped, pointed at the ground and said with trepidation, "Is he dead, mommy?" Thinking that he meant an animal, I looked around to see the creature he was referring to. Seeing nothing, I replied, "Is what dead?" Grabbing my arm, Adam gestured toward a large gray mass, "Him, mommy, that man." Looking in the direction of my arm, I saw a man, covered in gray. Gray clothes, gray hair, gray bags. Hearing our voices, the man stirred, allowing me to answer "No" as I quickly guided my son toward the homestead entrance.

Home, in early Las Vegas was not much. A wooden shelter to provide protection from the heat, it’s a journey back in time, that I have no desire to take. Yet for at least one man, it would be an offer of shade.

I remember earlier in this presidency a prideful boast that more Americans than ever were now homeowners. Well, not exactly owners, since most Americans purchase homes with the assistance of loans. On the opposite page, one reality of home ownership makes its mark, as the increase in U.S. home foreclosures reminds me that escalating home sale prices is why I still rent.

Recently my son and I toured an open house. The home is immaculate and comes with both a finished basement and an outdoor above-ground hot tub. The house was custom built in 1977 and has been well maintained by the original owners. Researching the area, I estimate that the owners paid about $70,000-$75,000 for the home originally. The most recent appraisal for tax purposes set the house at $259,000. A nice profit on a 30-year investment. So what are the owners asking for this home? $424,000. More than $150,000 over appraisal and close to $350,000 more than they paid for it. Now, I will say that this house has been on the market for at least six months and that particular weekend the owners lowered the price to $399,000. When I drove past the home the following weekend, I wasn’t surprised to see the "For Sale" sign still posted. The increase in home foreclosures has pretty much dried up the chance for a prospective buyer to acquire these super mortgages.

Reading the papers, my husband and I would always ask each other how people do it. How can someone afford a $300,000 home? Well now we know, some can’t.

While the city of Los Angeles offers up its sidewalks, I look around and wonder why there are no better deals.

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