i loaded up the car today with the bags and boxes of toys i no longer need to keep around now that the last of my little ones has turned eighteen. i probably could have culled the toys years ago but i’m the sentimental sort and hate to discard tangible reminders of days gone by.
there were plenty of things ready for donation by the time i was done sorting and packing. race track pieces, matchbox cars, lego sets, radio-controlled vehicles, hula hoops, and stuffed animals – the stuffed and oversized labrador puppy was especially hard to part with. still, it made me happy to know that someone new would be loving the things my children had outgrown.
the amount of money represented by the pile of discards was a tad horrifying, but the feelings of guilt were mitigated by the fact that most of the toys were in excellent condition. it’s important to take care of your things. i felt pleased that the charity would be receiving such quality goods. plus, the spare room was now an actual spare room, not a dumping ground for unwanted things. organized spaces thrill my soul.
hidden underneath the happiness was a little bit of smugness. “look at me giving things to charity. look at me do the right thing. see me being a good person.” helping is easier when it makes us feel good to do it.
the space around the thrift store is referred to by some as a homeless camp, and i suppose you could call it that since people congregate there during the day. they are not, however, supposed to stay there overnight which makes the camp designation somewhat misleading. where they’re supposed to go when the store closes is somewhat of a mystery.
there are any number of places the homeless aren’t allowed to sleep in this town. they even construct bus stop benches with multiple armrests, so that lying down on them isn’t possible. god forbid you should make it easy for someone to not sleep on the pavement.
there are so many homeless people now. you see them everywhere; the numbers are horrifying. i wonder if they’re scared all the time, being outside and vulnerable. it hurts my heart to see them. it’s horrific that we allow people’s lives to come to this. i feel both guilty and grateful for my lot.
it’s a problem and there seems to be no solution that the rank and file are willing to embrace. the idea of building shelters is anathema to so many, as is the idea of providing funding for treatment should there be mental health or addiction issues. debates over what to do rage. studies are undertaken time and again. what’s lacking is action and so, there they remain, on the streets, living a bizarre kind of transitory and insecure life that i can’t imagine. sometimes i think the inaction by those in charge is deliberate; perhaps they feel if they wait long enough, the problem will eventually die off.
my good-feels fade and the guilt grows as i head to the drop off site. i’m lucky in that i only have to be here for a moment; i get to drive away. it is sheer chance that i’m not one of their number. it was luck that i was born into a family that had the time and money to help me with my issues.
i smile, and make eye contact, and nod my head as i drive past and imagine somehow that because i acknowledge their existence, i am doing enough. i pretend that i’m doing all i can when i donate, or give money to the food bank, or bitch about the lack of political will on social media but of course, i could do more; interact more frequently, to start with. i wonder if there is a traumatic lack of touch when you are homeless.
i noticed a man of indeterminate age about two blocks away from my destination. he was thin in that frightening way that makes it seems as if only a skeleton exists underneath the clothes. if they were his originally, then he has lost a significant amount of weight. homeless usually means hungry. he had very scruffy, wild looking hair and a full beard which i assumed meant he’d been on the streets for a while, and he had his possession-laden shopping cart with him. he was also “luckier” than many of the homeless people i see because he had a tent; miles better than those who only have an umbrella or two to huddle under when it rains. he had set it up on a patch of mostly dirt, underneath a small stand of trees about five feet away from both the railroad tracks and the road. not an optimal housing location by any stretch.
his shelter will only be temporary; the city bureaucrats and administrators don’t let the tents stay up very long. someone will be coming along soon to make him take it down and “encourage” him to move on. few seem to care where the homeless go when they are rousted, as long as it’s somewhere else. “not in my backyard” seems to be a contender for favourite motto of the twenty-first century.
as for why no tents, that comes from the repudiation of the tent cities that sprang up for a period of time a few years back. you certainly don’t want those who are homeless to have anything resembling shelter or community. as though life in a tent on the street is their dream and if the opportunity for something better comes along they won’t take it. the plan seems to be to make homeless people as uncomfortable as possible so they’ll leave and become someone else’s problem.
i know the road to becoming homeless is complicated and different for each person. perhaps they lost their job, ran out of money, and couldn’t pay their rent. perhaps they were evicted, couldn’t find alternate accommodation anywhere, and didn’t have friends or family who could help. perhaps they didn’t ask for help as things were falling apart. maybe they didn’t get the medical or psychological help they needed, and they fell through the cracks. perhaps they’re addicts of some sort or other. a small percentage of people do choose to live outdoors, but i think most end up on the street through a combination of bad luck, misfortune, unfortunate choices, and circumstance.
in the end, does it matter how the situation came to be? the people who are determined to know the “whys” aren’t usually asking out of concern. rather, they seem to be trying to find a way to blame those suffering and thus remove from themselves any obligation to help. as though they themselves will continue to be lucky forever. as though it could never happen to them.
i watched the man putter about on his little patch of dirt. it reminded me of the things i like to do with my space. it reminded me of nesting. he walked around it, picking up the litter and using a tree branch broom to groom the ground. i watched and realized that he was making a home, establishing for himself a place in the world, no matter how transitory his tenancy there might be.
(march 19, 2018)
photo credits: max pixel; groundup.org; meridy volz