The Art of Being: The Homeless

Homelessness is an age-old problem that isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.  It can hit anyone regardless of their particular dynamic or situation.  Some are living just shy of the precipice and could tip once the tipping point is reached.  Not only would it affect the person but those around would be affected.  Children, parents, family, friends and society in general are affected by this particular issue.

I  can say that I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been homeless in the past and I managed to work my way out of it.  It took a lot of hard work and some darned lucky breaks, even the generosity of others, but I did manage to get back on my feet.  Not everyone can say that.  Some have other underlying issues which need to be tended to before they can finally be strong enough to stand tall and proud.  I referred to Peter who helped me when I was a young gay man, as an example.

When I lived in Chicago, and was in my 30’s, I spent a lot of time up in Lakeview / BoysTown on a weekend evening.  I would catch a cab from the south side, where I lived, and head up north for a night of frivolity.  Often I started at the Lucky Horseshoe which was the bar of choice for myself and my friends, and work my way up Halstead Street.  By the time my evening started to wind down, usually about 2 am, I would begin my wander about the neighborhood.  Headphones on, long black coat flowing in the breeze and yet always aware of my surroundings, I would spend an hour or so walking about, enjoying the sights of the city in darkness.

While I did that, it never failed, I would encounter some homeless person or other.  Now, after being homeless myself, I did develop the ability to tell the true homeless souls from the pretenders.  If they were a pretender, in my view, I might give them some change or I might just walk on by as all the others did.  If I found a true homeless person, I would see if they wanted to get something to eat.  If they insisted that I give them money, I figured they’d only use it for drink or drugs, or squander it, so I’d take a pass on that.  Sometimes they did take me up on the offer for a good meal, so we’d head to an all night diner and get the meal started.

I would spend the time talking with them.  I wanted to understand the circumstances.  I delved into the minutiae of the events.  I probed delicately to get them to talk about themselves and in a way brought us closer over the dinner table.  If I could glean some way to help them, I would do so, eagerly.  I’d offer advice, or maybe point out where things had gone awry.  I could do nothing about addictions, other than point them to a clinic or group.

After the meal, we’d go our way.  On succeeding wanderings, I may encounter them, and repeat the process.  Or I may never see them again.  I have to say that there may have been 10 people who I did this on a regular basis up there.  I was so pleased on those occasions where I heard that the person managed to pull themselves up and get back on their feet.  I wasn’t pleased for myself;  I was certainly glad for them!

So what’s the point, strange sage?

Homeless people are homeless for a reason, sometimes of their own making, sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control.  A little compassion goes a long way too for those who live rough.  Instead of passing some change to the homeless person, since you know it’s probably going to be used to support their bad habits and not good habits, take a moment to slip into a shop and get them a sandwich, or a bottle of water.  If they got a dog with them, get the pup a little something too.  Take some time out of your busy schedule to have a chat, learn something about another person, and maybe brighten their day or give them some hope.  That’s all they need sometimes; to see that the tunnnel isn’t quite so dark and there is a way out.  Guide them to helpful services, show them the options.

I think that caring for our fellow people has been neglected for far too long and it’s time for the human race to take the next step and begin to give a damn about each other.

And as a sidenote, to this day, I still take time out when I’m wandering to get homeless people a meal, have a chat, and learn.  I’m always learning.  How about you?