I swore I would keep this blog upbeat, but something has been eating away at me. When I was running to the grocery store the other day to grab the fixins for dinner I could not help but notice there was a new addition to my neighborhood strip mall. It was a man, holding a cardboard sign stating he was a homeless, hungry and a veteran. My grinch-like heart grew a few sizes when I saw a man come out of the grocery store and give the fellow a couple bottles of water and some money.
Those who know me personally, know that I have worked in human services working with homeless individuals and survivors of abuse. These are issues I feel particularly passionate about. When I worked in a homeless shelter, I was asked about panhandling a lot. No one ever asked me how they could help someone who was homeless, but they all seemed to want my stamp of approval to not give someone panhandling any money. Seeing that man in the parking lot near the grocery store brought me back to that place.
It brought me back to a place where as an outreach worker I would get calls about “a bum outside a store” and them needing me to go “pick it up”.
As though we were talking about garbage and not a human being.
Brought me back to a place where a battered and bruised homeless man was dropped off at my office because he needed emergency medical care…problem was I did not work in an emergency room.
It brought me back to my office and how it felt the day I got a call from the corners office asking about a body they had located. My business card was in with the individual’s belongings. It was summer…and hot…and extreme heat can be deadly, especially when you are homeless and have no means of escaping it.
It brought me back to a place of intense sorrow and frustration because if it were just a matter of housing we could solve this problem in no time. But the issue of homelessness is far from simple. It exists at the intersection of so many complex issues, the economy, abuse, health, mental health, addiction…just to name a few.
As I watched the interaction and was filled with the warmth of having witnessed a small kindness, I was also left wondering how soon until the neighborhood gets up in arms about the now visible “homeless problem”. How soon until giving this fellow water or a dollar will be met with criticism “if you keep giving to him, he will just keep coming back”. How soon until the neighbors start to complain that if we allow this one person to panhandle more will show up. That our neighborhood will be come unsafe. Will the same cycle I witnessed for years at work now play itself out close to home? I guess only time will tell. We have to go back to the grocery store today, I wonder if he will still be there.