'There'll be more jobs under Romney'
THE MEN emerge to greet me from the dense, sub-tropical foliage like indigenous tribesmen. They guide me through the woods to a small clearing where three tents are pitched in the sand.
Each of the camp’s inhabitants has a bicycle, their only form of transport. The biggest of three tents is spray-painted black, to make it less visible to the police helicopters that scour the woods for the homeless.
A train thunders by on the railroad tracks, some 40 feet to the west. The same distance to the east, the traffic on US Highway 1 rumbles constantly.
“I got used to the noise,” says Chris Graves (36). “But if a pin drops in the camp, I wake up. The worst thing is the bugs. The fire ants are hellacious. The mosquitos are just as bad.”
Snakes and brown recluse spiders are also common.
“There are dozens of tiny encampments like this one,” says Dennis Bartholomew, executive director of The Source, a church-funded charity that provides three daily meals for 140 of Vero Beach’s 750 homeless.
The economic crisis has made the problem worse. More than half of Vero Beach’s homeless work, but do not earn enough to pay rent. Some lost houses to foreclosure. Others, like Graves, fell into chronic homelessness when they got out of prison. The majority are white Americans.
Indian River County is one of the richest in America. “The 32963 zip code, on the beach side, is one of the wealthiest,” Bartholomew says.
Retired chief executives and European royalty own sumptuous houses in gated communities which they visit for a few weeks a year.
In campaign speeches, the Republican candidate Mitt Romney invariably repeats the grim statistics: 23 million Americans unemployed or under-employed; one in six Americans living in poverty; 46 million Americans on food stamps.
Romney uses the figures to condemn Barack Obama, but offers no solution other than cutting taxes and regulations to help business. “I’m not concerned about the very poor that have that safety net,” Romney said in February. “It’s not my job to worry about those people,” he said in May, in a secretly recorded video of a fundraiser in nearby Boca Raton.
Yet Bartholomew and the homeless of Vero Beach are receptive to Romney’s message. “The only thing that will improve the situation is more jobs,” he says. “Listening to the guys at The Source, it’s Romney.”
Barry Hilliard (34) left his last job, cutting sheet metal in Indiana, three years ago. He drifted from Corpus Christi to Yeehaw junction, then Vero Beach.
“I don’t have any college,” Hilliard explains. “I’m looking for unskilled work, and there isn’t a whole lot of that.” Graves and Hilliard watch television at The Source, and surf the internet in the shopping arcade and library. “I watched the first debate, where Romney destroyed Obama,” Graves says with delectation.
Convicted of a felony for injuring a man in a fight, he’s not yet allowed to vote. But if he could, “it wouldn’t be Obama. I don’t think he’s done what he said. He’s tryin’ to change us to a whole ’nother thing. I don’t like his agenda.”