Why is it when we are given the opportunity to make eye contact with the homeless, we often look away? Is it shame? Is it pity? Or is it a fear we are unwilling to acknowledge? People have been homeless long before 2010. It is incomprehensible, even during times like these, that a nation such as ours has been unable to eradicate this condition.
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IMAGE CREDIT: BBoomerinDenial
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the 350z ROADSTER
I drive a 2004 Nissan 350z Roadster. It's a beauty. Truly sweet, like an artificially-colored maraschino cherry. I had been saving up for this car for so long it had gone out of production. When it came back it had changed body styles — twice, before I could make it mine.
Anytime the temperature breaks the 53 degree threshhold I'm happily shamed into putting down the top by sixty-year old men in their own vintage convertibles. If they could brave the brisk temperatures who was I to cower behind the protection of double-layered canvas? It makes the commute to work that much more bearable and it is a joy to drive.
The car does have one unexpected benefit. It puts me in the front row for the daily pageant of urban humanity — and sometimes lack thereof.
Because of the convertible I am the prime target for questionable charity fundraisers, panhandlers, bearers of floral shop discards and the homeless. The former three are easily dismissed, the latter are hard to ignore. They are even harder to acknowledge. I say this without remorse or pretention. I do not think I must be better than anyone who happens to be homeless, just lucky.
I read somewhere that one of the most painful things for the homeless to deal with was the fact that they seemed to disappear from the center of people's vision. They instead thrived only in the general periphery. The same spectrum of vision reserved for blind spots and the brief period of night when it gets darkest before the dawn. We only notice when they make a fuss and even then, we discount them as crazy, schizophrenic or sufferers of tourettes. Yet often that is the furthest from the truth. Whenever I can, I do make eye-contact and I try to give them a look of understanding rather than pity. When prompted I engage in conversation. I fight the urge to think that the person is a scam artist or faking it so that they can beg for a living — because I'm sure no one dreams of growing up to become a panhandler. After money has changed hands and I've driven miles from that intersection I'm still affected.
There was a man of confused and sad nature
Thought no one loved him that was not true
He said he was a lost soul didn't fit in anywhere
Didn't know where to turn or who to turn to
Just how much pride would one have to swallow to beg at an intersection? To hold up a sign that broadcast to the world that they've reached the end. To exclaim that perhaps this was the only way they could generate enough cash to feed themselves or their children for just one more day. The more I think about it the harder it is for me to justify how we could live in a country where this is allowed to happen. No matter how much I donate to SOME (so others might eat), no matter how much change I give out, no matter how much I volunteer (or wished that I could), I know it will not solve the problem until the collective "we" view homelessness the same way we do cancer.
The summer before last, after seven months of unemployment, I was almost financially tapped. I had gone through my savings, borrowed from my mother and cut into the 401K. I was where many Americans were — between a rock and a hard place. I didn't have the income needed to sustain the mortgage any longer yet, if I sold the condo I'd be in debt and I wouldnt have a home of my own. I'd be homeless — though not exactly destitute. With good friends and family, some of whom served both functions, I made it through the roughest of times. What happens to people whose friends or family are uninvolved, gone or lacking?
The real reason we avoid eye contact with the homeless hit very close to home, no pun intended. We do it because we're afraid when we look up, we will see ourselves in the eyes that stare back.
the NATIONAL COALITION ON HOMELESSNESS FACTSHEETS
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More than ever this holiday season its a time to give thanks for what we have — often its more than most can even hope for...
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