Thursday, May 8, 2014

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

        There is a homeless man living at my local library.  I began piecing the clues together about a year ago: the rickety white sedan with a backseat stuffed with clothing that was always in the same parking spot, and the quiet man, dressed in clean but threadbare clothing, with swollen sandal-clad feet, who was at the library day after day.  One day, as the library closed, I saw this man walking slowly to the old white car and get in.  The pieces clicked together.
         I suppose, if you weren’t a regular at the library, you might never realize.  The neighborhood that my library is located in is extraordinarily wealthy.  I used to go for runs here, watching as vans full of gardeners and maids parked on the streets, entering the huge homes to work long hours so that the owners can return at the end of the day to a fairy-tale home.  And here, in the library, a homeless man is found, hidden from sight.  
Even now, I hesitate to write about this man, out of fear as to what might happen to him should people put together the pieces.  The way we treat the homeless in this country - criminalizing and stigmatizing people who are already down on their luck - says a lot about who we are as a nation.  There was also a homeless man that rode my morning bus, always getting on at the same spot and exiting at another.  In this case, I could identify him as homeless both by the sign he carried as well as the odor.  The others who rode the bus with me - most of whom had been riding the same bus for years - treated him with a certain wary distance.  No one said anything against him.  No one said anything to him. What I usually thought about was just how distressing it would be to go through life with no warm bed and no access to a proper bathroom. 
A few months ago, I read the book "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City  This memoir, which was later turned into the movie "Being Flynn," deals with the author's relationship with his father, who turned up at the homeless shelter he was working at.  Nick Flynn writes of the instability that pushed his father into homelessness, as well as the instability that he himself inherited from his father.  He also writes of simply working in a homeless shelter, as he sees all of the people that fall through the cracks of our society, whether by hard luck or illness.  


  1. Having worked in 3 libraries, I'm very aware that it is refuge for homeless citizens. Well, not at the first one I worked at--the BYU library.

    1. You'd be surprised - there were a few enterprising students at Cornell living in the libraries. :)

  2. I've always held a personal philosophy that I'd much rather be bilked of a few dollars by a hundred "fakers" than to deny help to one who really needs the money.

    I once gave into my wife's parking lot glares and didn’t give some cash to a young lady with her hand out and it haunts me still, but it made me wonder; why do so many begrudge those in need? It's not like giving a person a dollar or two or five will make him/her rich beyond imagination and leave us living in squalor.

    Here are some shocking statistics from the UN on homeless people across the globe

    There’s an odd argument I often hear that these “people should get a job; we do, so why should I work to support them?” It always sounds like a juvenile, playground argument akin to “if I have to do it, they all should have to,” or even “if I can’t have it, no one should have it.”

    I was once told to be kind to the people you know; you never know when you see them if that's the last time you'll ever see them.

    I say, Mohindu, be generous to all who are asking; you may never know if they really need it or not, but the failure to offer a little help to the desperate is far more devastating to them than it is to us to separate ourselves from a bit of pocket money.

    1. I struggle with giving money as well - a few weeks ago, I failed to give help to a couple who asked me for gas money and it still haunts me. Sounds like I should listen to your wife.

      Very happy to hear from you Boomer.


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