“If home is where the heart is, does that mean that homeless people have no heart?” A mean tweet read by a homeless person on a segment of Huff Post Impact X. Homeless Read Mean Tweets <—–click link for video.
Meant to bring social awareness to the stigmatization of “homelessness” in our country. Heart crushing to see the looks on the faces of the homeless folks reading these mean tweets but even then, my heart goes out to those sick souls who feel the need to lash out at an already struggling demographic to assert that they are somehow better? My mind goes to, “wow, that person really must be struggling with something terrible internally to spit so much venom at someone who has no other recourse.”
I grew up, in an area that I commonly refer to as “The Bubble.” Discovery Bay/Brentwood California, back in the early 80’s. At that time it was small, like only 1 stoplight in Brentwood small. Definitely no real presence of homelessness.
Growing up in a highly conservative home in a very small town, homelessness was something that was only seen on television. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college in our “rebellious-piercing obsessed” trips to Berkeley was homelessness really experienced in real life. Then, it was somewhat of a novelty. There were “famous/notorious bums” strategically placed around the Telegraph area of Berkeley. There was the infamous “joke guy” who hung outside of Fat Slice. There was the guy who wore women’s clothing and ran after cars barking like a dog. In San Francisco, there was the bush man who hid behind branches and scared the living heck out of people.
I look back now ashamed that I even entertained this idea that these folks were here for the amusement of others. But then again, I hadn’t really been taught to see it any other way. I hadn’t been taught to look at homelessness from a place of understanding. That something monumental had to have happened to land these folks on the street. It wasn’t until my move to Honolulu in 2003 that I really became “aware” of the implications of homelessness.
Moving to Downtown Honolulu from “The Bubble” was both the most terrifying and amazing experience of my life. I learned so much about life that I feel I wouldn’t have otherwise learned. My first apartment was in Chinatown, on the corner of Smith and Nimitz Hwy. To walk to school, work, the gym I passed the same homeless people day after day, night after night. To be incredibly honest, I was scared shitless to walk home or to class by myself for the first few weeks. Especially when I realized that at night time Bishop Street, which I walked down each night after the gym was the place where most of the transsexual prostitutes would hang out waiting for a trick.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t really in harms way. The homeless usually just slept and the prostitutes were all about their business. It didn’t stop me from silently judging though. Usual thoughts of, “These people must have really screwed up their lives to be where they are in life” or rationalizing that they had to have been terrible people to end up living this sort of life. They had to be right?! Bad things just don’t happen to good people, right? Damn…was I naïve.
It wasn’t until a couple months later, that I was out scouring Chinatown, for Vietnamese coffee presses with my manager at my job (The rRed Elephant) that I got the wake up call of my life. I remember walking past these homeless folks, lying on the sidewalk. I watched my manager’s eyes dart at them lying about, and I was thinking to myself, “Good grief, get a job,” thinking that my manager had to be thinking the same thing when she said, “You just have to wonder where their families are and what could have happened so drastic that would put them in such a position.”
She may as well have slapped me. That’s how I felt when I heard her response. I was sure that she was thinking the same thing as I was. I have never been more glad that I didn’t open my mouth and say what I was thinking because instantaneously I was humbled and ashamed for my overall negative way of thinking on this topic. Why had I never stopped to consider that these people could be suffering in some way that created this situation for them? That they might be in poor mental health, have survived a financial crisis, lost a job, their family, their health. I never looked at a homeless person again with the same tenacity to jump to negative conclusions.
I get that a lot of people are homeless due to a drug addiction. That is the typical stereotype. According to an article written by Daphne Chen, a writer at the “Daily Californian” an independent Berkeley Student Publishing Company, http://homelessness.dailycal.org/causes/ about “40 percent of the homeless population suffers from chronic substance abuse, 41 percent are severely mentally ill and 20 percent are veterans.”
A large part of the homeless population in Honolulu were Veterans as well. That breaks my heart. These are the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country’s freedom and liberties. We are quick to celebrate them come Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day but apparently forget about them shortly thereafter. There was one man who came in to my work place every single day, paid for his cup of coffee and would hang out there all day. He was an amazingly sweet man. A veteran. Someone who had body tremors and was repetitive in his conversations and actions. To the average passerby’er he was just another weirdo on the street. To those who knew him, he was John, a veteran of the U.S. armed services who dealt with post traumatic stress and other physical ailments from serving our country. Who was lucky enough to have a roof over his head at a local shelter, and lived on a meager paycheck from the U.S. government. A pay check that would be gone shortly after its monthly issuance because John would buy all of his buddies, who didn’t receive a monthly payout, food. He wasn’t so concerned with himself. He would have given the shirt off of his back to help anyone else in need.
We need more “John’s” in the world. In a world where being charitable/philanthropic/hospitable comes but one time a year (The Holidays) and where these acts are done to illicit “likes,” “shares,” and “affirmative commentary.” What are we teaching our younger generations? That kindness is universal…”universal” meaning only due to those who fit into your ideal mold of what is deserving of “kindness?” People just like you, right? Or people who are only nominally less well off than you?
I get that most people are only capable of so much. You are only capable of what you allow your mind to accept. It’s the “cool” thing to do these days to “appear” philanthropic. Teach our children to be kind to others. Just the others we deem “worthy” so that we have a heartwarming story to tell at our next social gathering, something to post on social media, something to keep us warm at night when we tell ourselves that we are making a difference in the world. As Les Brown said, “If you put yourself in a position where you have to stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness.”
I thank god for the experiences, trials and tribulations I have had in my short life. They haven’t been overwhelmingly damning but they have been enough to stretch me out of my comfort zone and force me to expand my own consciousness. I can only wish that others have the courage to do the same. We might find the world we live in a much brighter place.