Saturday, April 14, 2007

Haunted


Looking for home
San Francisco, CA, March 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I touched off a bit of a discussion with my earlier entry on homelessness in this city, so I thought I'd return to the theme.

A colleague of mine pointed out after seeing the initial blog posting that vagrancy is illegal in San Francisco. Consequently, the city's homeless population is engaged in a constant battle to avoid arrest. They load up their carts and move around from place to place, never staying long enough in any one spot to attract the attention of the law. It's an endless quest for...well, not for anything, really. It's an endless quest to stay one step ahead of jail time.

This image haunts me. The look in this man's eyes speaks of a despair that I can't even begin to imagine. As he walked along the water's edge on the uber-trendy Embarcadero, legions of well-dressed city dwellers passed him by. He was completely invisible to them; a mini-drama of a distressed life on the move, taking place literally under the noses of his neighbors.

All I have is a lens and a pen. I can't fix this. All I can think as this man shuffles quietly past me is that I need to ensure such tragedy never visits my own family. I feel selfish for this, but my wife and kids have to matter above all. Then I shudder when I realize that life comes with no guarantees, that any one of us isn't so far removed from walking anonymously through the city, our worldly possessions stuffed into a squeaky-wheeled shopping cart.

These conflicting, dark thoughts echo through my mind as this nameless, homeless man slowly fades into the crowd before disappearing for good.

Your turn: As you watch a homeless person walk on by, what goes through your mind?

32 comments:

craziequeen said...

Hey Carmi,

I was homeless once, for a brief time. As long as it took for me to grovel, beg and offer to pay for bed and board with hard graft to get a bed at a friends house.

So I actually don't have a lot of sympathy for most homeless people. We have an awful lot of young homeless here in the UK, who could probably either go home or work their way out of it.

But I totally understand what you mean by the expressions of the longtime homeless, those people who want to or have to live on the streets. There is something dead behind their eyes.

cq
Michele sent me to say hi and thank you for not shying away from the dark side :-)

Sarcasmo said...

I am always amazed that this can happen. It is not conceivable to me that for every homeless person, or family, there is not one person who cared enough to stop it from happening to them. I am lucky enough to know it wouldn't happen to me. I also knew a man who's brother was homeless. Not because no one cared, but beause of a mental issue tha made him choose kit. On the lighter side, if there can be one, i have always wondered why people who are homeless stay in my neck of the woods where the weather can be harsh. if you are mobil anyway, why not head south?( Of couse I know there are many forces at play here, nd it's not that black and white)

Veda said...

Heya, Carmi. I'm typical curious about stories and everybody's got one. The thing I find about homelessness is that the stereotype (of drug-/alcohol addicts who did it to themselves, or the mentally unstable) is not so very often the reason for these individuals to be roaming the streets. It's sad, but the honesty of truth can be lessons to so many, if they'd only listen.

Taking CQ's point though, I don't have much for those that simply never tried. Life's a constant challenge and the goal is match or stand above each one, in turn.

Have you gotten that fancy "Thinking Blogger"-thingy award yet? You should. :)

Madame Courtney Whiny Complainy Pants, Esq. said...

What happened to get him there? Always my main question. Drugs, trauma, economics?

Star said...

Carmi- i posted a comment, bu was signed on to my daughter's google account. It says from Sarcasmo, but it was me. Sorry.

carli said...

I feel pity for most homeless people I see. Sometimes, when they beg for money I don't have and can't afford, or when they spurn my offer of food, I get annoyed. But most homeless people I've encountered are quite polite. . . if they ask for money, and I refuse or ignore them, they'll still say, "G-d Bless You" or something like that.

The fact is, a large percentage of the homeless population suffers from a serious mental illness--illnesses that are hard to treat. And by their nature, they are not likely to stick to any medication regimen or reintegrate themselves into society--they're just too far gone, and there are not enough resources available to treat them properly. So, as long as they're not violent towards others, I feel they're at least entitled to my pity, if not my money. I don't know their stories, and therefore, I cannot judge.

Anna said...

Hey Carmi...

As for me, I just wonder what this world looks like through their eyes. I can't even imagine the hopelessness that they may feel, whether they on the streets for a short time or a lifetime.

I appreciate you revisiting this side of life.

Pearl said...

You can fix it to a degree by making people not overlooked.

My neighbourhood has a lot of homeless. Sometimes I make eye contact, sometimes not but I try to always acknowledge when they speak.

A lot of these folks are just regular people who hit a vein of bad luck. Lose a job, get depressed. Safety net doesn't catch everyone.

ChaCha said...

Well it makes me want to take everyone home with me to look after them

Sarch said...

I always wonder what the story is behind their situation.

Bad decisions? Circumstances beyond their control? To be honest I never realy know just where I fall on the Homeless issue. My heart does go out to them, that's for sure.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I think--"there but for the grace of God..."> I truly believe this can could happen to anyone. And the reasons for homelessness are so many and varied...It is always heartbreaking to see and I always wonder what happened to this person...? What is the story behind this homelessness?

One time, a number of years ago...I was driving and stopped at a red light. Sitting on the bus bench was a man and right next to him was his cart---full, just like in the picture on your blog, Carmi...and then I saw that he was talking on a cell phone....I so wish I had had my camera with me that at that moment...! I wondered and still do, what that story was, too....It is never a simple explanation, is it?

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Forgot to say that Michele sent me today, Carmi....(I get so involved in your posts that I am ALWAYS forgeting to say that Michele sent me....LOL!

Veda said...

I remember being in NYC once, years ago, with a friend that lived there. A homeless woman followed us into a resturaunt asking for money. I was young and didn't know what to do and my buddy was handling it already, so I let him continue. I was shocked to hear him tell her, "You know it's illegal [following us into a business establishment] and you know you need to leave here, now." It's hard to face, but I think there are a few more occasions of people that are irresponsible with their lives than I'd like to believe. It's the only reason I can figure for family/friends not stepping up - to "teach a lesson" or simply because helping doesn't always...help.

Here via Michele's this time. Happy weekend to you, Carmi.

Bob-kat said...

I wonder what happened to bring them to this point. I suspect some of them could help themselves but sometimes life does bad things to good people.

It's good that people like you bring this to our attention sometimes and make us think.

I hope the darkness is lifting abit for you Carmi.

Bob-kat said...

I forgot to say that Michele snet me this time!

kenju said...

I always wonder what brought them to that state, Carmi. I wonder if it was their own poor choices or if outside circumstances made it happen. I wonder if they will ever be out of that condition and what they think of the condition they are in.

We have a similar guy here in town, who wears everything he owns on his back (I never see him with a cart) and hangs around a fast-food place. I have bought food for him before. What turned me off is that I have seen people give him money and instead of buying food or water, he buys cigarettes. Someone told me that he is homeless by choice. I cannot imagine it - but maybe he just doesn't want to work.

Paul said...

I have a special connections with homeless folks. It's our monthly joy to help feed hot meals under bridges, in cardboard homes, under trestles, between tall buildings...

Here from Michele's today.

Nikki-ann said...

I wonder what led them to where they are now and what can be done to get them back to where they should be.

kimbofo said...

Great post, Carmi. My parnter has a saying, "we are all one pay cheque away from being homeless" and, when you think about it, he's probably right. If you don't get paid next month, how do you afford the mortgage, food, transport etc if you don't have any savings. I always think of this whenever I see a homeless person.

Catherine said...

I'm not really aware of seeing homeless people around our city much. I don't think we have a big problem - though I've heard there are street kids who live rough in summer, but tend to suck it up and go back to their families when the weather gets cold. I can't see the logic of trying to solve the problem by making it illegal. You could make sickness illegal, but it wouldn't stop people from getting sick. Michele sent me.

Becky68 said...

Homelessness was a scary thing to think about growing up in Massachusetts which has plenty of homeless in Boston (visible) & a lot of the more invisible, suburban homeless also, I was mostly scared then that I & my family would end up homeless. (mostly due to some stuff my mother vented on me when I was too young to understand it)
Living with my ex, we were close to homeless 3 or 4 times over the years due to his patchy job history & nowadays I always donate to our local commuity action for their food bank & homeless relief funds when I recieve my tax refund each year. Because I have had to seek help there so many times over the years myself that I can't not try to help now that I'm doing a little better myself.

rennratt said...

Two of my friends have been homeless in the past. One was due to poor choices (drugs and alcohol), the other was a teenager of a single mom who lost her job.

Both friends went on to college, and now live in homes with families.

I try to picture them when I see homeless people. It keeps things in perspective for me.

tommiea said...

My thoughts are what brought them to this point?? Do they not have a family to turn to? I can't imagine not having one single person to turn to in time of need.

Then most importantly, it makes me thankful that I have a home, I have food to eat. Also it makes me realize that I have too much stuff....these people can cart everything they own around in a grocery cart....do I really need another clear glass pitcher...?? No....

Melody said...

Makes me grateful that I have such a great life...

I always try to put myself in another person's shoes - homeless or not. Everyone has a story to tell and I wonder what this fellow's story is?

I'm here via Michele today...

Mr. Althouse said...

This is a tough question. Even more so because it's been raining and cool all day in Sacramento, which means it's been raining and COLD all day in SF. I don't know what the answer is, but in a nation as affluent as this one, there should be none of this.

Mike

margalit said...

Our family has been homeless too. When we left the bay area, we stayed with friends for almost a year until we got back on our feet. Living in San Francisco you see a very different homeless vision than in other parts of the US. Homelessness is a job in the Bay Area. People do it because they can live better on begging than they can on menial labor jobs. It is horribly sad, but it's also true. Which is why you see so many homeless people there. And if you think SF is bad, cross over the bay to Berkeley, where the homeless peopulation is staggering. Or go down the coast to Santa Cruz. I'd never seen anything like it. Homeless people from all over the country come to the bay area for the weather and because it's an easy place to survive. There are plenty of places to eat, they don't need shelters like they do in the northeast, and believe it or not, it's actually easier to be homeless there than just about anywhere else. They even have their own newspaper!

We used to have one homeless guy that begged at the exit of the highway by our house. I bought food to give him every day. Sometimes it was a can of soup or ravioli, sometimes it was a granola bar or energy bar, but I always had something for him. He knew my car and would get up, stretch out his hand, take the food, and amble away. No words, just an exchange every evening.

Sarcasmo states that he knows it could never happen to him, but it can. I went from making $160K to homelessness in a year and a half. It can happen to ANYONE. Don't ever be so complacent as to think it can't happen to you. No matter how much you have in savings and investments, if no income is incoming, you're going to use up your savings eventually and then you have nothing left. It happened to thousands of families in the bay area when the tech bubble burst. No jobs, huge cost of living, huge expenses.... they all are paths to homelessness.

scrappintwinmom said...

...That we're all just a paycheck away from ending up like that guy.

MileHighDivaCyn said...

When I went to San Fran, I was very shocked at the large amounts of homeless. When I moved to Denver, I saw a lot of homeless people I had not seen in Biloxi, MS where I had been living for the past 1/3rd of my life. I feel bad for them, but I have been the victim of disgusting comments when they tell me they are "hungry" and I offer food and I get attacked verbally by them demanding money. We have a lot of day work programs here in Denver but few take advantage of it. Most of the homeless I see are at least 1/2 my age and I wonder...why? I have taken care of myself for a very long time and lived on the floor of a 650 sq. foot apartment for 9 months when I was broke as hell and had no money for much. Sometimes you have to try to dig your ownself out. I don't mean to sound cruel, because I truly am not. I have bought food for these folks here and even given money. But when I am accosted on the street, I lose my sympathy factor sooner.

Diane said...

I echo those comments that sometimes I think, "there but for the grace of God . . .". I think a very large percentage of people in this country are a job loss away from being homeless. Look at the increasing number of foreclosures in this country - where will these people go? I also think the lack of mental health facilities contributes to the problems.

But because I have someone in my life who is a recovering heroin addict, I know that this drugs and alcohol are also a big contrbuting factor. It is a difficult issue. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Awareness said...

HI Carmi.

I wrestle with many thoughts on the homeless. they are often the people whom I spend some my days with. Many times, I have had the most eye opening, heart opening discussions with a homeless individual.

We cannot underestimate the deep level of despair and depression many on the streets are trying to cope with. I have seen everything from rage to completely drugged out. I have seen hope and sorrow.

I don't live in a huge city. The people who are "homeless" in my city I recognize when I'm walking down the street. Some scare me because they are so delusional, but for the most part they are friendly and have a strong desire to connect with another.

So much I could write about this, but don't want to come across as preachy or a know it all........cause I sure don't have any answers.

What I have learned is that if we take the time,,,, just to stop in our very busy tracks and lives every once in a while to be open to having a conversation with someone who is homeless.....to trust the process of connecting.......we can truly see that the person is a 3 dimensional living breathing soul with feelings and empathy and joy and sorrow, who can laugh and see the absurdity as well as the pain of life. It has happened to me, and for that I'm truly grateful.

We should not have this problem given all the blessings we have been offered living in Canada or the United States. It's appalling how many are out there struggling just to meet their basic needs.

Like you.......I will always protect and care for my family first and foremost...... I guess my job has allowed me to realize that my family extends to my community as well.

What is the Grace of God? What does there for the grace of God go I really mean? Perhaps the homeless offer us a glimpse of grace.

CG said...

I was shocked by the number of beggars in SF, and when I was in Venice last year they were everywhere...if you were to give money to all of them you would soon be broke yourself. It's so hard to know what to do...

Bulbboy said...

When I see a homeless person go by, what usually comes to mind is: "I wonder what (s)he's thinking watching me go by?"