The homeless problem in the US has really tugged at my heartstrings. I rode my bike through the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago and write about how I felt out there. https://silverwheelsblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/the-homeless-traveler/ It was the most lonely experience I can remember. It’s bad enough to be homeless, but to be so shunned as well?
It’s easy to say they are mentally ill. They are lazy. It is their choice. They should just get a job. They should take care of themselve and stop expecting handouts from the rest of us. This is easy to say until you talk to homeless people. I met only two homeless on my bike trip who were relatively young. All the rest had silver in their hair, and many were clearly seniors. I read a statistic recently that said half the homeless were over 50. It’s hard enough to get a job at that age when you have a home, let alone when you are on the street without an address, shower, or clean clothes.
I talked with the elderly greeter at Walmart. He was sitting on a stool inside the door, cane in hand. He said it isn’t too bad. People are good to him, and the money helps him get by. I saw another guy sleeping at a bus stop while people waited for the bus, totally ignoring him. Someone must have given him a sleeping bag. It looked quite new. The sun was out and it’s was tolerably warm, but what does he do at night when temperatures are in the 30’s and dew, if not rain soaks everything?
This guy below was begging at an intersection, sign in one hand, dog in the other. He was totally gray with a gray beard, clearly not a young person. I was across the street in stealth mode, not wanting to intrude without asking.
I did have an extended conversation with Jean, however. I don’t know how old she is but she has a fair amount of gray in her hair. She was doing OK until the recession and real estate downturn. She lost her house, and then her job. Then her husband also lost his job. She managed to find another job but then go laid off from it too. The stress of all this unraveled the marriage and she ended up alone.
She said she has applied for every source of help she can find with no results. There is a 15 year wait for section 8 housing. She would love to have a job and be able to take care of herself but she just can’t get there on her own. She is trying to get enough money to pay off a ticket so she can get her drivers license, and then maybe get a job driving. She has no teeth and no way of changing that, so this makes her look less emplyable. She is thankful she has a friend (also homeless) with a car who lets Jean sleep in the car and keep her things there. She says homeless shelters aren’t very helpful because you need to get there with all your stuff, and in the morning you are put back out on the street again.
Chloe, her dog, is a source of comfort and warmth at night. I can only imagine, alone on the street, how much it would mean to have a dog. I asked if there was anything I could bring her on my way back from shopping. She said kind people had brought her socks and warm clothes, but could she have a coke? It would such a luxury and a treat. What’s she thanked me for the most though, was stopping to talk. She said she feels like poison much of the time, and it meant a lot to her to be seen as a human being.
When you see a homeless person, don’t be quick to judge. You don’t know their story and their struggles. It could be any one of us. A series of bad turns, bad luck, no family or safety net, and down you go. How this is OK with this country is beyond me, but I see this administration taking away rather than extending help to our most vulnerable. I only hope the future brings a strong and swift backlash to this attitude.