George Saunders (aka The Principal Researcher or PR) travelled to Fresno, California and set up a tent in a tent city (aka The Study Area) for the purposes of observing the inhabitants and reporting back for GQ. This story is a pain in the ass to read (28 pages with no “single page” option) but it’s worth wading through for Saunders’ observations.
Sometimes it seemed unimaginable that such poverty could exist in America and that the residents accepted it so passively. Why didn’t the place explode? Other times — when, for example, the PR had been out driving around the pleasant neighborhoods of Fresno — the Study Area seemed like a tiny blip on the radar, the necessary detritus of an insanely affluent country. The presence of 300 losers in a city of winners seemed not like a crisis, but rather a reasonable embodiment of Christ’s admonition that the poor would always be with us.
The Study Area presented a unique and vexing case: With all basic needs (food, shelter, laundry, etc.) met, did all suffering vanish? Based on the observations made during the Study, it did not. The well-fed homeless of Fresno, it was observed, suffered considerably.
They suffered with feeling inadequate and left behind. They spent considerable time and energy telling and retelling the story of their lives, as if looking for the place where things had gone astray. They were lonely and seemed to long for the better things in life: ease, property, companionship. Perhaps not surprisingly, this longing sometimes manifested as anger; also impatience, derision, a tendency to gossip ungenerously. In this the Study Area was similar to any other human community, but with the endemic poverty serving as a kind of process accelerator.
Update: Some kind soul has posted the whole thing on one page for easy reading. Hey, GQ! This is what your web site should look like. (thx, rakesh)