“Really?”

13 Jan

I was walking around downtown Phoenix the other day–and inevitably I’m walking down a street where a homeless woman is sitting on the sidewalk. As I walk past, she says, “Really?!” It was a simple statement that bugged me the rest of the day.

Upon reflection, it bugged me the most because the implication is that I owe you something. It’s not like she had a sign out (like the picture I chose for this post), or a hat, she was just sitting against the wall on an empty street… literally just her and me for blocks. What do I owe the other hundred people I walk past on my way to work and back?

  1. Don’t bug them.
  2. Don’t stink.
  3. Don’t get in their way.

It’s a limited social contract, I realize, but it’s pretty straightforward. My obligation to my fellow Phoenician on a daily basis are those three. Now is that all we should be doing? No. But what was she expecting in this interaction?

The simple answer is money–and I go back and forth on this one. Years ago I felt like, “That’s a shitty way to make money, so if they’re willing to put in the ‘work,’ sure, I’ll throw them a buck.” Now I’m like, “We have a labor shortage in the simplest of jobs. You’re obviously healthy enough to work, screw you.” I don’t care if they spend that money on drugs, booze, or food (but let’s face it, it’s the first two), but I’m under no obligation to help you get those. The reason she (and at least three hundred others) are sitting there is because the county shelter, a food bank, a soup kitchen, and at least three other homeless services are there.

I give to one of those (and occasionally two others) because I believe that the homeless deserve to have help. So I’m thinking there are six locations within easy walking distance of my cube that will feed you, clothe you, help get you a job, and help you get housing. Yet there is a reason why you’re sitting on an empty sidewalk at 2 pm on a Tuesday. It’s not because you’re just down on your luck. It’s because the alternative is inconvenient to you.

In the end, the “really?!” tells me everything I need to know. My experience with homeless and ex-homeless people is that these are people who have exhausted every other connection they have. They have burned out their friends, they have crushed their family ties, and they think it’s all other people’s fault, not theirs. Why should I have to work? Doesn’t the government owe me something? You see me–give me something!

In many ways, that’s the greatest lesson that I learned and that many people haven’t. If I’m sitting in a bad situation, I did something to get me here. Sure, I may have had a bad break here and there, but my choices led me to this place. It’s my choices that will get me out. It’s never too late.

One Response to ““Really?””

  1. Yetismith January 14, 2022 at 7:34 am #

    Agree absolutely.

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