I am tired of homeless people. I am also tired of war, cancer, and forest wildfires. With there being many things that I cannot fix, homelessness is at the forefront of my mind.
Not too far away from me is a coffee shop. Outside the coffee shop is a bus stop. That bus stop has become home base for one man. He comes and goes, but be it middle of the day or overnight, he returns to curl up on the pavement and sleep. Friday morning, as I walked to that bus stop, I passed another man camped out at another bus stop. (I always find it oddly amusing that people that do not have homes still have expensive phones that they can watch television shows on. They may be homeless, but they still have a luxury or two.)
Driving to the city gives another offering of homeless people. The sides of the highway are decorated with several homeless encampments. I wonder why that group of people need a tall metal later in their encampment. I marvel at how those folks can be so close to a concrete ledge and now worry about falling off the steep embankment and onto the concrete. I see the clusters of tarps and wonder how they have any peace with cars driving by loudly at all times.
Next up is downtown. President Trump once claimed that Washington was a hotbed of anarchy. This was the region that he was referring to. Gone are the massive barriers and the throngs of protestors. The homeless though, they are still camped out. Some have a dog. Some have their music. Many of them sleep with their feet poking out of a piece of cardboard or sleeping bag.
Then there are the parks. One park in particular houses dozens of people. This park always has a few people living off the land. RVs are a constant presence. Now, with many of the parking lots closed, the RVs have taken to the curbs. And the homeless have moved into the park in droves.
The park makes perfect sense. Less people have been out exercising in the last year and a half, so there is more room for them. When the doors are unlocked, there are dozens of bathroom stalls to use. There are showers. Barbeque pits, water fountains; it is about as convenient as it can be for them. And there are a lot of them.
I am impressed by their ingenuity. For the last year I have noticed an extension cord strewn along the pavement of one parking area. I followed the cord. I watched as each section ended and another began. Orange, yellow, black, blue; the cords kept going as I tried to reach the terminal of the rainbow. Someone had discovered an open panel on a street light. They spliced in a power cord. Then, with many an extension cord, they took their power source five hundred feet to the nearest skybridge. The cords continue over two sidewalks and six lanes. After the bridge the cord continued another couple hundred feet to reach their home base. Someone really wanted power. (About a hundred feet from the street light, I found a surge protector unplugged, lying by the cords. I also found a case for a new cellular phone. At least once, someone spliced into the cords with their own cord, probably plugged in the rest of the cord and their phone charger, and walked away later with a powered-up device. Again, people love their phones.)
Once upon a time someone climbed on top of a gym at the park and spliced into the Ethernet connection. That seemed like a bit much when there was a coffee shop and a library a mile away.
Another park not to far away is also known for its homeless population. The space takes up a chunk of a city block and has its own portable toilet. For the next two weeks, the land is bare. Normally, a dozen or so tents, structurally unsound creations, and random furniture fill the spot. For now, there are only signs and notices. Seattle is slow to clear out encampments these days. There must have been an increase in incidents lately. Regardless, the homeless have lost their home for two weeks. The smell of urine remains.
I assume that the same thing will happen as has happened whenever the city clears out a park. The homeless will return. I have watched folks get their belongings trucked off only to put those some items back in the same spots once the city is done. They find somewhere else to crash while they are ousted and then they come “home” to the same patch of pavement.
Where else would they go? Every one has to sleep somewhere.
The jerk in me is irritated at all the homeless spread all over and all the feelings it stirs up in me. The kinder, wiser part of me wishes there was something I could do to fix this. Anything. I cannot buy them a home, I cannot hire them, and I cannot prescribe drugs to those that need them.
What I can do, and what I struggle with, is to think of them as people that are homeless; not “homeless people.” The people part needs to come first in my mind. People have many attributes and qualities. Where they sleep at night is just one aspect of them. “Homeless people” are a problem put upon society. People that are homeless are someone’s family or former coworkers. “Homeless people” could not possibly be anyone that I know.
Forget the fact that a woman I tried to date spent a chunk of her childhood living out of a van. Disregard the manager I had who was homeless for a bit. And sure, there may have been a pastor that was homeless for a bit more than a year.
It is far too easy to treat people that are homeless and lump them into this group and call them “homeless people.” If they are depersonalized and stereotyped, we can judge them easier. We can pass laws and remove them with impunity.
Or, as I am still struggling to do, we can remember that they are people. I, and many of us, am just one medical emergency away from having my savings wiped it. It really does not take much. One little bout of hardship can shift things.
There is a picture that I did not photograph, but it is the most important one. As I was walking through downtown, I saw two people in a bus stop. They were not looking down the road, waiting for a bus with anticipation. They were looking at each other. The man was kneeling down in front of the woman that was seated on the bench. The man was holding her hand and speaking softly. The woman had her weathered eyes narrowed, an expression that was somewhere between trying not to cry and exhaustion. The corners of her mouth were slightly raised as she took in the reassuring words that met her. It appeared that they were both homeless. More importantly, it was clear that the man was doing everything he could to make the woman feel better; to be a source of comfort in the early morning hours.
I could complain about how I am tired of homeless people. Or I could keep reminding myself that people in this world have it harder than I do. And that the biggest thing that I can do to help is to treat them as humans that need kindness and love.