Everybody is wary of the homeless ‘problem’ in the downtowns in the U.S. Whether it is San Jose or Seattle. As a visitor, you would be more cautious than the residents. One of the guys whom I met in a bar last year gave me some perspective about the homeless issue though. About how the surge in real estate pricing, and other such issues results in a homeless community.
Usually I ignore the questions from the homeless on the pavements. Everytime it pains me because ignoring someone is the cruelest thing to do than denying or refusing. But the fear of the unknown is dominant and I would always find solace in imagining them to be drug addicts or people who have messed up because of their own fault. Most of the times they would be asking for change. And when we ignore, most of them curses.
Which wasn’t the case when I met a lady near the SAP center. I didn’t even lend my ear properly to what she was asking for but then as I walked past, she was saying ‘bless you’ and ‘happy holidays’. I walked past a little more, only to realize that she was asking for food, not money. And I did have food as I was on my way back after grocery shopping. So the guilt mounted over after a few steps and then I walked back and asked her, ‘were you asking for food?’. She said yes. I gave her a little of what I had. She was thankful and asked me if I had anything to sew, she would do that for me in return of the favour. ‘I will sew for food’, she said. A proud woman, just being plain unlucky.
Another day, another homeless man. And this time I was more attentive to what was asked, though still trying to ignore. He also wasn’t asking for money. ‘Would you have a lighter’, he asked. In this cold weather, that is the only thing he’s got to ask. I said sorry and moved on and there was no cursing.
I would still ignore, as I am still fearful of the unknown, bu this couple of incidents prove that maybe sometimes you just got to acknowledge the presence even if you don’t give them anything. Ignoring someone’s existence maybe is the cruelest thing to do.