How the other half lives

Over at Freakonomics, Sudhir Venkatesh introduces Michael (multimillionaire trying to learn how to be a philanthropist) to Curtis (Chicago squatter):

Curtis showed Michael a rag and cleaning brush. “See this, Michael? Keep this around, and you’ll always have a meal or a place to sleep — or both.” Michael looked confused. Curtis explained further. “People who got places to sleep will let you stay a night. But you have to pay $10. And I don’t have money, so I clean up, fix things. That woman you saw — she probably will clean for a good night’s sleep. Maybe a store needs mopping, maybe your uncle needs his garage cleaned.”

“Why not stay at a shelter?” Michael asked.

“Not enough of them around,” Curtis replied. “And you have to be out by 6 a.m. If you got kids, you can’t take them out in the cold. So you stay in a store, or you stay in a vacant building. And no more food kitchens since the projects went down. Not a lot for poor people.”

Curtis then took out a cigarette. “See this? Always have a loose cigarette. You can always use a bathroom in somebody’s house — maybe even get a shower — for one. Maybe your kid took a dump in his pants. Maybe you need some toilet tissue. Always keep a cigarette for emergencies.”

After reading that, the rest of the post surely recommends itself.

Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.