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The other evening, I spent my work dinner break taking a little field trip to Continental Coffee for one of the best latte's on the drive. You can't beat the price either, cuz you get a double 16 ouncer for just $2.85 - that's pocket change thanks to the good old loonie and twoonie. As I passed the liquor store I noticed a young man sitting on the street with a coffee cup in his hand. His face and neck were tattooed, he was wearing a grimy ball cap and he had a black pit bull snuggled against his side.

"Spare some change?" he said, looking at me through bleary, reddened eyes.

I shook my head and looked him in the eye. Without pausing, I gave him an encouraging smile. I was just few steps away when I heard him calling to my back.

"Can you answer a question for me? Why don't people give a fuck about the homeless?"

I stopped dead in my tracks, then I spun on my heel and strode back to him.

"You think that because I didn't give you money, I don't give a fuck about the homeless?" My voice was a low growl, my tone incredulous.

"Well... uh... no..." he stammered. "I mean, people. I just wonder about people. why don't they give a fuck? Ok, so I'm drunk." He was petulant now his voice almost a whine. "But I'm not a bad person."

I couldn't believe it. How could he not know this? Seriously, how can he be sitting there on the street outside the liquor store pan handling and really be asking this question? Asking me this question? Me on a short break from my work with my feminist politics and anti-oppression analysis right in the forefront of my mind. I thought about racism and sexism. I thought about the olympics, the downtown east side and the colonization of Canada's aboriginal peoples. I thought about war and about violence against women.

"Because people are assholes!" I threw back. "People are mostly crap". We looked at each other for a moment, him sipping booze out of a Starbucks cup, me with my hands jammed deep in my pockets - fingers curled protectively around my $3 salvation. Finally, I sighed. "I'm still not going to give you any money," I said breaking the silence. "but you're wrong. I do care about the homeless and the poor. Take it easy, have a good night."

"Yeah."

Date: 2009-03-16 12:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] paka.livejournal.com
See, I never make eye contact. Looking someone in the eyes says "I am a warm sympathetic person and a complete boob, hit me up for money."

I wish there were some way of handling homelessness better than what's done now, the default. I don't know how much different the problems are in Canada as opposed to here. I hate facing the problem; I know the government isn't fixing things, that the churches aren't fixing things, and meanwhile there's a real human being out there in the cold. Traditionally people diss bums because they'll just spend the money on cigarettes or booze, but eh, I can see why people would want cigs and booze. And with the way things are going I might wind up homeless myself, if it were me I'd want people to give me money. So theoretically I don't mind giving money to bums except that I'm not an ever-brimming font of cash and it really irks me that somehow I have to feel guilty and throw a pittance towards a problem which the government and rich assholes created and can't be bothered to fix. If I give money, then I've just dicked myself - even if only a little - for a person who doesn't give a CF about me and for a problem which I never caused. It's a no-win situation. I hate it.

Date: 2009-03-16 02:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] somejauntypolka.livejournal.com
Homelessness is a HUGE problem in vancouver or so the media tells us. To be more accurate, it's HOUSING and it's lack that is the problem. Continued attempts to resolve homelessness are bound to faill...It's a matter of focus I think.

I dunno, I always make eye contact. I made a decision a while ago that if someone's going to address me on the street, I will look at them directly and tell give a response with kindness and compassion. I figure if I can't give money I can at least give a smile or a 'have a good night', or 'keep warm' or something like that. Since I started working in the helping field it stopped feeling okay to just dismiss or ignore people - we're all swimming in the same fish bowl, eh?

In regard to giving money, the only hard and fast rule I have is about guilt - I won't give someone money if I'm feeling guilty. I will give money if it feels like the right thing to do and I happen to have some.

I heard that Portland has some effective strategies about housing and homelessness. Heard anything?

Date: 2009-03-16 03:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] paka.livejournal.com
Have you ever read Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickled and Dimed? She spends a year doing really crummy blue-collar-ish jobs and trying to avoid really pulling on her bank accounts to reflect the reality of being poor in the USA. At the end of the book she analyzes costs of everything and the thing she pinpoints as completely breaking people is that housing costs go up a lot faster than income. My experiences in the Bay Area really seem to support that.

Wow. That's impressive. I wish I could get past some of the "life is adversarial" background that leads me to not make eye contact...

I don't know much about Portland's stuff with homelessness. I do know that their downtown is free, bus wise - where "downtown" is gets weirdly patchy - and I can't imagine that doesn't help. The city was full of homeless people when I've been there, which implies either the weather is kind enough to survive easily (it isn't) or there's something else going on, but what, I don't know.

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