I work at the epicenter of life in my city, locally identified as the #1 must-visit block for visitors coming to my city. Although it is not the geographical center, it is an economic and historical focal point. Although it isn’t as large as New York’s downtown, my little urban corner of the world is plagued with all the same problems; busy people, hard workers, families, wealthy people on their way to make more wealth, and struggling people on their way to struggle through another day.
By those struggling, I mean those struggling to find warmth when the sun goes down. I mean those who pick our lunch leftovers out of the trash. Those who struggle at the lowest point in their lives, fighting to get back on their feet. Homeless people
Many people cringe away, avoid eye contact, and whisper hateful things to their friends as they walk or drive past. Why don’t they quit doing drugs? Why don’t they get a job.? Why don’t they do something with their lives? I used to lock my doors driving past the shelter too. I used to think they wanted to grab me. I used to think they were just like dirty stray dogs and the dog catcher should come take them off my streets. Don’t you think?
But I’m older now. I’ve found a steady income, and begun paying my first bills, and listen to the challenges my coworkers face with keeping up with their rent. I never realized how close we all are to being in their shoes! Working and working downtown – these things have really opened my eyes. And, now that they’re open, I’m seeing the same homeless guys every day that every one else walks past.
And they are nothing but sweethearts. I have a few gentlemen who park themselves around my shop’s square, one outside my garage and one outside my favorite restaurant. These two gentlemen sell newspapers provided by a company that work solely to provide work for homeless people downtown. I have never bought a paper once, but every single day, I walk past with a big bright smile and a “Good Morning!” That is all. And they get the brightest glow, brighter than they get after any pity dollar I’ve seen them collect. Mr. Restaurant Man always says, “Good Morning Ma’am.” Mr. Parking Garage man always says, “Well, Gooooodmorning Miss!” Never have they approached me, and they never greet me first. But when I have, I see something in their eyes most every one else never gives them. Validation. Then there’s the black guy who can play the harmonica like no one I’ve ever heard. Every weekend, he writes me an impromptu song as I walk past. Always with a compliment, I listen and smile as he plays me my own personal version of the Blues. It’s always a highlight.
See, we spend our lives cutting people down who don’t live on our standards. I’m no anthropologist, but this is an entire culture of people make fun of, made to feel unworthy, and made to feel unhuman. I know many people have very strong standpoints on how homeless people are mooching lazy bums. But if people showed you the level of disgust, hostility, aggression, and hatred as these people receive, wouldn’t you feel torn down and worthless? It’s hard to find worth when you are constantly reminded how worthless you are. Granted, there are individuals who absolutely take advantage of the government and the privileges provided by the sacrifices of the working class.
But if we put arguments and statistics aside, aren’t we all just about one paycheck away from being in their shoes? Aren’t we all one bad emergency away from foreclosure, bankruptcy, and homelessness? I think many people attack the homeless topic out of fear and denial.
Not to start any fires, but in exploring this subject, I found a blog devoted to the hatred of homeless individuals. It says it was created to keep the begging cups of homeless people empty. It says, “DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS!” Then it scrolls on to show videos of them being beaten, attacked, and run over by cars. All I can say is, if anyone threatened to run over my gentlemen from the square, I would be furious. There are a thousand types of friendships, and one of mine so happens to be with individuals without homes. I don’t know their names, and I don’t need to. I don’t know their story, but they have one.
People are people, and I pray you always have a place to hang your hat. But I also pray they find a place to hang theirs too.