Saturday, December 10, 2005

Helping and Hating the Homeless 

The front steps of the library are buzzing with homeless entrepreneurship and activity. A man has set up an al fresco barbershop, complete with a black barber's chair he must have dragged out of some dump. There are several towels spread out by crack heads pedaling their strange wares: broken sun glasses, scratched up, empty CD cases, collapsed shoes, moisture swollen mass market paperbacks, battered cooking utensils, 4 year old Yellow Pages. A raving homeless man is preaching fire and brimstone, but seems only to be evangelizing the pigeons, rats and roaches, which seem to be there more for the bread crumbs he has spread before them than the message. ‘Tis the season for Samaritans to drive by and drop off plates of food, which the homeless litter half eaten on the steps, rich leavings for the pigeons and rats. I consider these drive-by do gooders more of a nuisance than the homeless themselves. Their misguided philanthropy contributes to the transformation of the the library steps into a homeless gathering places, a de facto homeless shelter, and we have neither the resources, training and funding to deal with the this. I am trying to balance my frustration and repulsion with pity and empathy for everyone involved in the whole sorry, endlessly complex mess.

Suggested further reading:

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: a Memoir by Nick Flynn. The author’s father was a self proclaimed artist who abandoned his family to live on the streets. The book is about Flynn’s drifter twenties, in which he spends most of the time working in homeless shelters, trying to come to terms with his father’s decisions and circumstances.

Helping and Hating the Homeless: The Struggle at the Margins of America by Peter Marin
Originally published in Harper’s, this is a beautifully written essay by a former homeless man that recounts the author’s own experiences, as well as the history of homelessness and events that have shaped current philosophies and attitudes toward the condition.

Why not install speakers out front chiming Michael Bolton at all hours of the day. Better yet, keep it on repeat to "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You"
As long as these people are distracting thieves from their attention to the bike racks, I don't mind the encampment. And I disagree with Michael Bolton--it should be Michael Bolton AND Michael McDonald. . .
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