Yesterday I was doing some errands, and I was sitting at a stoplight. I live in a large, metropolitan city here in beautiful Northern California, and I'm sorry to say, the homeless panhandlers are a common sight here, depending on which neighborhood you happen to be in at any given moment. ANYway, I have to tell you that I worked at a homeless shelter for quite a number of years and enjoyed my job a lot. It was a shelter that assisted women and children only, though we were affiliated with a very well known "general homeless population" assistance group. I got to know the ins and outs of homelessness, the reasons for it, the effects of it, etc...and I need to tell you, in my PERSONAL opinion, there were very few cases of "bad luck" or "unfortunate events" that lead to most people's homelessness. Typically it is simply bad decisions. Decisions about going back with that abusive boyfriend, drug addiction, alcoholism, allowing your husband to use your home as a drug acquisition mecca, and on and on. It is NOT usually because your company was downsized over night, or you defaulted on your mortgage because your child became ill. It's usually a series of bad decisions. And, a fairly decent amount of the time, it involves untreated mental illness. I used to give the homeless money when they asked, and stopped when I started noticing them taking my money and NOT going to McDonald's for something to eat, but rather to the corner Quickie Liquor and boozing it up. Now I simply donate to reputable organizations or I donate items for them to use.
Wow, I digress...back to the original story... So, I see this guy. He's VERY well dressed. Shirt tucked in, not wrinkled. Very neat, clean looking. His sign is carefully lettered. He's an older guy...maybe in his later 50's, gray hair. Clean shaven. Looked like he could be my dad or the grandfather of one of my students. I wondered for a second if he really WAS homeless, or if he was one of those losers who PRETENDS to be homeless because he makes more money on the street than he does cashiering at his job at WalMart. Or, is he one of those guys who does an expose on the homeless and he's simply "acting?"
But then I saw his eyes. The homeless have a particular way of scanning a crowd of cars waiting at the stoplights. They scan very quickly and with their eyes almost downcast, never hovering for more than a split second over any particular vehicle. I don't mean this in a derogatory manner, but they remind me of my dog when we're eating something he finds particularly tasty and he keeps looking up to see if I'm going to offer him any. He doesn't want to seem like he's begging, but he really wants some...so if he plays it cool, maybe he'll get tossed some. That's what this guy reminded me of. Needy, but shy. Hurting, but patient. Just wanting to get through the day.
I started to cry. What was this guy's story? What happened to this guy who looked like he could have been an executive just a short time ago...heck even yesterday? Is he mentally ill? Did his wife dump him into the street because he's an alcoholic? Does he have children? Where does he sleep? What does he dream about? Is he happy? Does he REALLY want a different life?
I cried because I realized so many things in those 2 minute sitting at that light. I realized he and I were really not that different. I have a place to sleep each day and plenty to eat; I don't worry about my safety...but we're both missing vital elements in our life. What are the basic human needs? Food, shelter, safety? Is that it? Then, after that...our mind can worry about other things, such as companionship, belief in a higher power, etc...but we can't think of all that until the basic needs are met. My basic needs are really not being met, therefore I can't really think of anything else. I've got the food, yes, and I've got the literal "shelter/safety"...but I don't have the figurative "shelter" and "safety."
That's what I'm working on. And that guy? Still thinking about him...if I see him again, I might just take him to McDonald's and buy him a (disgusting) quarter pounder and talk to him for a while. I'll bet he'd have some wisdom for ole FatMom. Probably tell me to stop being such a baby and enjoy all that I have.
More stuff to ponder whilst I FINISH that blasted fence today~