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October 23, 2019

Homeless

Someone’s Baby (Homeless)

Leaving San Francisco after a fun family weekend, I am at a loss – a loss of how to help. I had a similar experience when we left much farther from home – Paris a few weeks ago, tears ran down my cheeks. Someone may have mistaken my tears for the end of an amazing trip. The kind of trip you walk 12 miles a day in love and sleep deep.  The tent city lining the outskirts of Paris is what got me – they always do.

Homelessness has a hold on me. Observing and sometimes being up close to those with no home – other than the streets.

Years ago working in the financial district I had daily conversations with two scruffy men who found shelter next to the lobby doors. I brought them food and a few jackets – it felt different. Perhaps my youth and naivety – now to see homeless it cracks my heart open. To have others suffering beyond my normal and to know how exposed these humans are is often too much to bear. Yet, I remember us joking there was a lightness.  It must have been for my benefit looking back.

Lately, though, I break down in tears. I realized so much is my soft heart that I have never tried to harden.  Yet, even more, I have no answers – no solution. It feels overwhelming and big because it is.

I have heard others in disgust at the size of our – OUR homeless population.  I have heard many state, “Some choose to live on the streets.” What I know is our mental health care system is broken in some ways – mental health facilities closing with a force decades ago.

What I know is the homeless are someone’s babies. We lived in Santa Monica when my oldest was born. When he was a toddler, we would walk Palisades Park on the cliff above the ocean, or rather stumble along. More than once he would point to a man or woman sleeping under a tree or on a bench.

He would point and say “bayebee”, – over and over “baby”. For these weathered, under the fingernail dirty, rough calloused skinned souls appeared peaceful sleeping. Looking back, I realize he believed he thought they were babies as they slumbered through our morning walks.

I wish I could tell you the names of all of those without homes I have interacted with over the years – I can’t. One name I remember, a woman everyone wrote off on Montana Avenue with opinions or stories on her past. I do recall her name being Bonnie. She was blonde – the kind of blond one might find in a salon. Her face was weathered – as if she had never used sunscreen and only seen the sun.  Shuffling up and down the street her head deep in trash cans, always mumbling to herself or screaming out loud.

We must have had a false sense that Bonnie was okay. On the well-groomed, boutique-lined street – warm climate and ocean breezes. I’ve gone back to visit over the years without her in sight. Did her family save her? Did she succumb to something horrible?

Bonnie was just one of many I can see clearly in my mind.  In between a house sale, we rented an apartment. A group of five or six homeless humans traveled together, making home or camp where they could near the apartments.  I saw them daily if not more walking my dogs along the ocean parks. I was in between myself – not unlike our home – married, reflective and contemplating motherhood, which despite trying had not yet come.

The group didn’t often speak to me – but there was a leader among them. He wasn’t as filthy – he didn’t scream years on the streets. He looked as if he dressed very well at some point in his life.  The way he crossed his legs told me he had held long conversations and longer dinner parties.  His clothing was not stained as the others. We spoke – he asked for money more than once.  I said I had none with me.  We had conversations of his time in 12 step programs and rehab visits.  He mentioned how much he liked my part chow lab mix older dog.  He said if I gave him the money he wasn’t going to lie – he asked me not to promise not to buy alcohol.  I never asked him to promise –  I left and returned with a twenty-dollar bill.  Probably more than once.

Years and years ago my most favorite and sixth-grade teacher spoke of money without conditions. Every morning when we walked into his classroom he had a proverb on the board. We spent what seemed like our first hour of class deciphering the literal meaning – then the figurative meaning. Quite a goal for a teacher looking back with a class full of 11 and 12-year-olds.

Mr. Proverbs also told us a story of a friend needing money. He said he didn’t loan money – he only gave it away. He explained if he was in a position to give he did. Without restrictions or conditions. This way the relationship was not damaged or altered by finances. He simply gave or didn’t.  This has stayed with me for over three decades – if I give I give; to foundations, to friends and the homeless.

Times have changed some. Giving money to a woman in a wheelchair only to see her walking with another, hours later counting all the money. I wonder how often someone else is behind the homeless asking for money. I envision a homeless pimp of sorts – taking 90 percent or worse. My giving has shifted the last decade.

Our trip this weekend to San Francisco, I reminded my boys to make eye contact – to find a soft not forced smile. We didn’t drop money in cups or buckets – something I would have done without thought before. However our last day, a man in disrepair was shuffling slowly down a street. He was the only homeless person in sight. His head was held down in such a way he looked as if he had given up long ago.  I gave him money. “Sir, this is for you”. His meek nasally voice and bright blue eyes surprised me when he looked up.

My boys and I looked back after several steps. I told them about the feeling I had from my core – right above my belly and below my chest. They nodded and understood, I needed to give him money. They know my pimp theory too – we walked on. I looked back once more, to find the man finding a safe place for his new bill. “May you be safe,” I thought. For he is someone’s baby.

There was a time I would give, no matter what. One of my best friends had heard at a sermon years ago to just give when asked. If we have not been in that position to know the humility needed, we just give – no judging. But there is a huge population to give to now. The population is not dwindling in those who need help – mental health, medical and those who once lived paycheck to paycheck to a financial emergency.

I realized as of late my heart breaks in compassion but also in defeat.  And if I am giving up hope in my warm, easy home willed with paws, children a loving and safe partner – how can those without homes have hope for themselves.  I must find hope and a solution for at least a few of these souls. My heart will continue to break but I believe it is supposed to when we see those in need and vulnerable.

 

 

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