Perhaps my last article offended you? Honestly, I’d be really surprised if anyone actually read it, but I’m guessing if you did, it probably offended you. My hope in this article, is to lean on your compassion and reveal some things to you. This article is about the most under-represented people in american culture: the homeless.
Let’s get some basic facts out of the way. First, many homeless have severe mental illnesses, even after you weed out chemical dependency, which is frequently co-existent with mental illness. Almost all homeless have spent time behind bars, if not for vagrancy, for other issues. Nobody wants to hire a felon. I found this out the hard way after I took it upon myself to see if I could drive my sports car faster than a sheriff and approximately 5 california highway patrol cars. I eventually stopped, because eventually they would have deployed a helicopter. Speaking of which, federal regulations require that cars that cost under $250,000 are regulated to go no faster than 160mph, and I’m a little disappointed that my car topped out at 155. I feel kinda cheated. Anyway, while I sat at home for approximately 5 months on house arrest, trying to find work, nobody wanted any of that shit. It would have been a legal nightmare for anyone trying to hire someone who was technically incarcerated (even though my profession tends to let people work at home), but also, there’s that stink of criminality.
Now, I am most definitely a highly skilled and trained individual with a quarter century of working experience under my belt. That 21 year old kid that got in a fight with a cop is definitely not the same story, and tech people mostly care about things like violent behavior and financial and computer crimes. Everything else is kinda, well, unimportant. Your local Starbucks however not only has more applicants at its doorstep (that means they simply don’t have to hire you), but they also have more concerns about hiring someone with a record. This makes it exceptionally hard for the homeless to find work.
People like to blame problems on the homeless. San Francisco, where I lived for some time, is one of the easiest targets. People take a big fat steamer on the street pretty frequently, and for a time, there were a lot of homeless folks on the streets. So, San Francisco is frequently a target for folks, who like to criticize liberal institutions especially, since San Francisco is so notoriously liberal (look into Chesa Boudin for a good example of why that’s a huge crock of horseshit), and thus, must be coddling the homeless.
The truth is actually both a lot more sad, slightly hilarious, and ultimately unrelated to San Francisco at all. At one point, the State of Nevada would offer people accused of vagrancy a choice: they could go to jail, or they could be put on a bus going to a place outside of the state of Nevada. That bus almost invariably ended it’s route in San Francisco. I don’t know the status of this, but either the state of California or San Francisco has attempted to sue Nevada for this, and you can look into that if you care. Quite literally, the shit on San Francisco streets is from Nevada.
And, while we’re talking about shit on the streets, let’s talk about why there is shit on the street, which is pretty basic to understand if you have lived in literally any american city. For starters, the vast majority of city businesses don’t have a public restroom. The ones that do usually either have codes or locks on the doors, and they will give you that code if you ask nicely, or if you purchase something. But if you haven’t showered in a month and soiled the only clothes that you own, you will not get that code. Quite literally, the reason the shit is on the streets is because, you know, homeless people need to shit too, and it has to go somewhere.
So, the upside of homelessness is never really covered much. There’s a reason for that, namely that being homeless fucking sucks. You’re either begging or stealing to get what you need, every night is an adventure just to find a place to sleep, and if you do get through those two things without being destroyed by the police, there’s the harsh realization that nobody wants to acknowledge you exist, at all. In fact, this is so prevalent that there is – perhaps ironically – a mental illness for this exact problem in the DSM-V. After years of people pretending you don’t exist, you start to think that maybe you don’t.
When I learned of this illness about 20 years ago, I decided to at least make an attempt to talk to homeless folks. I figured, I don’t really have the time, drive, or tolerance (more on this in another article perhaps, but Non-Profit Organizations are some of the most corrupt businesses in america) to volunteer in an organization that feeds or protects the homeless, so I figured one thing I could do is talk to them occasionally. I do this often enough, but these days I don’t do it because of some noble purpose or sense of moral conviction.
Homeless people are fucking interesting! Not only do these folks generally not fit into cultural boxes, which makes their viewpoints unequivocably original and thought-provoking, but while you’re in an office 8-14 hours a day staring at a computer screen, they are out on the street! They see their homes, the cities they live in, through a very different lens than you do. We speak volumes about diversity these days, but the most diverse people are probably trying to find food in your trash can right now.
You will probably have a pleasant conversation if you stick to your guns, show them respect that you would any other human being who wasn’t in their position, and take the time to listen. And if you can spare $5 to $20, you will quite literally make them feel like they found a golden ticket in a Wonka bar. That’s a pretty good fucking feeling, and I strongly suspect if you have a device capable of reading this article, that kind of money isn’t a huge deal for you. Put down your prejudices and try it.
Of course, there are a lot of stigmas against homeless people and yes, many of them are unsafe individuals. I once sat in a train station in Philadelphia and tried to offer some food to a homeless man and have a conversation with him, only to have him bark like a dog at me until I left. So I did. So maybe treat a homeless person like a woman would treat a drink at a bar they don’t frequent, and protect your neck. Still, I’d be willing to bet you’re more likely to get in a fatal car accident than be physically threatened by a homeless person. The cops show no mercy to those people, and believe me, they know it.
I certainly realize that I am a highly critical person and that I have a genuine distaste for american culture, and some of these things cannot be changed. This I know. But nearly anyone can talk to someone else and share their ideas, feelings, and beliefs with one another, however. That shit is free.