This is possibly going to be one of my more controversial topics due to being slightly political in nature. I typically try to stay away from political topics on this blog because I become too impassioned. However, I feel that the topic of homelessness can’t be ignored.
Let me start by sharing what spurred this topic. I work downtown, and due to that, I see a lot of homeless people. I have gotten into the habit of taking a few $1 bills out each pay period and putting them in my car to give to people if the timing at the intersection is right. So many times, the argument against giving people money is, “They’ll just spend it on drugs.” Yes, some of them might and some of them might not. 38% of homeless individuals are dependent on alcohol and 26% are dependent on other drugs.
Once that money leaves my hands, I don’t care what they do with it, because no one can argue that their life isn’t sort of shitty. Addiction is tough, and if it is drugs they are going to spend their money on, that is probably one of the reasons their life is so shitty. But until more programs come around that help people fight their way out of addiction, they are literally living day to day hoping to be able to either:
2) keep withdraw at bay
3) come up with some sort of shelter
4) not get murdered (I wish this was me being dramatic, but the likelihood of this is too real in major cities all across America. While not all cities keep statistics on this, hate crimes from housed people toward homeless people numbered 472 in 42 states in a six year period).
In addition to seeing homeless people while driving, I see them all the time while taking a deposit to the bank for work. I have found that if you do the opposite of everyone’s instinct, if instead of pretending these people don’t exist, if you say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have cash, but good luck.” Or, “I don’t have money on me right now, but take care.” People will often smile. I have been thanked for acknowledging that someone exists. So many homeless people feel invisible.
Recently, I saw a man on my way to the bank, he asked if I had any money, he said he was just so hungry. I looked at him and told him one of the platitudes I wrote above, and went to the bank. Before leaving I looked in my wallet, but didn’t have any money. However, when I saw this man again, on my way back, he was looking longingly into Subway and was swaying. This man was probably in his 60’s if I took a guess, and it was obvious life had been hard. He had a giant goiter on his neck, and couldn’t stand straight. He saw me again and asked if I could please just help him get something small to eat.
In that split second I decided that yes, I would get him a sub and something to drink. I told him to come with me into Subway and pick what he wanted. He ordered one of the cheapest things on the menu, and loaded it with the toppings that come included. The employees at Subway averted their eyes and even though it was obvious the sub was for him, they addressed all questions about toppings etc. to me. He chose his drink, and after I paid, he thanked me many times. This is going to sound hyperbolic, but he had tears in his eyes, he really did. I think he was just so relieved to have food and hydration.
I went back to work and finished my work day as normal. As I thought about this man, I could almost hear people telling me that I am a “bleeding heart”, but you know what? I would rather be a bleeding heart who sees people even when they are at their lowest, and does something, even something small, to help them, than have a frozen heart and let others suffer without a second thought.
I do not know this man’s story. I don’t really know the story of any of the people I try to help, but I do know that statistically 46% of homeless people suffer from mental illness and/or a substance abuse disorder. I have a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder as well. I recognize the privilege I have that I was able to go to rehab. I recognize the privilege of being able to throw (though not always easily) $140+ toward my psychiatry visits. I recognize that I have a husband, and parents, a brother, and in-laws who would all do whatever they can to keep me from being one of those 46%.
It is due to this privilege that I wake up every day and am able to go to work. It is also probably due to my illnesses that I am able to see all of the suffering around me so clearly. I want others to see this suffering. I want everyday people to see the woman crying on the street corner, holding a sign asking for help. I want the government to put more resources into helping veterans with PTSD and/or substance abuse disorders. I want the states to see their homeless population as people who are in desperate need for help, and to create more programs to help them.
We may not all agree that even those who are homeless deserve a chance, but if you are reading this blog, you most likely agree that mental illness and substance abuse are true diseases, diseases that can make functioning in society nearly impossible without treatment. Next time you see someone asking for help, remember, they are people too.