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Left behind in land of equal opportunity

5 11 79

WASHINGTON • Sitting among a jumble of his few possessions on a San Francisco sidewalk, 41-year-old "Kaels" Raybon has begun to accept the bad choices he made.

He was a drug user, and did jail time. By the time he was let out, his wife and four children - two boys and two girls - had left him. Other family members had died and he had nowhere to live. He has now spent over 15 years on the street.

America may be the land of equal opportunity - but like many other countries, there is a thin line between a life on the street and a roof over one's head. Poverty creates its own loop; a prison record, for instance, makes it difficult to find employment.

Mr Raybon's voice trembles as he speaks of his children. "Emotionally, I'm a wreck most of the time," he admitted to The Straits Times. "I see kids and dads, and I want that too. But it's just not in my cards."

The children came to visit him one day, he said. He was torn. "I wanted them to stay, but at the same time I didn't, because I have nothing to offer them."

Mr Raybon is among those who make up the most visible indicator of America's worsening poverty and inequality - over half a million urban homeless. They are a stark contrast in perhaps the world's richest, most powerful and most technologically innovative country.

But homelessness is only the visible tip of the poverty iceberg. Large areas outside big cities are mired in chronic poverty. The definition of poverty varies, but a commonly used measure from 2015 is an annual income of US$12,082 (S$16,100) or less.

The streets of San Francisco are home to some of the US’ half a million urban homeless. Homelessness is only the visible tip of the poverty iceberg in the world’s most affluent nation. UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston has warned that worse is in store for the country’s poor as the income gap continues to widen. PHOTO: JEANNE HALLACY

Mr “Kaels” Raybon has been living on........

© The Straits Times