In college I met my first homeless person face to face and its an experience I’m sure both of us did not soon forget. Leaving my apartment for campus a kind looking man approached me. To preface, I always pictured homeless people as I saw them in Miami, missing teeth, wild hair, filthy clothing. And I being young and naiive expected homeless people in NYC, Chicago, Atlanta… but not Gainesville, Florida. So anyways this man, let’s call him Bob approached me
Bob: excuse me miss I’m homeless.. do you have some change?
Aisha: you’re not homeless.
Bob: Yes.. I am.
Aisha: No you’re not! You are dressed really nice
Bob: um. Thanks miss but I am homeless, I live on University Ave
Aisha: Yeah nice try you can’t fool me! *looking around* Am I on candid camera?
Bob: no! I really am homeless! I swear!
Bob: I am! Can I please have some change? *getting very very sad*
Aisha: oh.. I’m sorry. I have 20 cents. Here you go. Sorry for not believing you.
Probably the hardest 20 cents Bob ever panhandled for! I used to give money to homeless people until someone told me not to because its spent on alcohol or drugs so instead I would givefood. I rememeber one homeless man at UF with long dredds a Jamaican flag colored beret who only had one leg. One day waiting for the light to change he told me how he lost his leg to cancer. My heart just broke for him. So occasionally when if I knew I’d be passing by him I’d grab him a bit to eat. He was always happy to see me and I felt happy that I was giving back to society. But years later relaying the story to my brother in law who also went to UF (since I think everyone who went to UF knew this man) he fondly remembered the one legged homeless man who lost his leg in a drug deal gone bad. All these years I was supporting a drug dealer. Aint it true that the road to hell is filled with good intentions? Ocassionally giving him food got me in the habit of taking doggie bags even if I didnt particularly care for the food in the offchance I could give it to someone. Kashif and I cracked up in Vancouver when we took some leftover Falafels with us and a homeless man approached us pitifully begging for money. I offered him the leftovers. His entire demeaner changed as he demanded to know what it was, whether it was tasty or not, spicy or not. I guess beggars can’t be choosers is just a metaphor?
Last year, driving to school, a homeless man approached me as I sat preplexed about my flat tire and offered to fix it. Turned out he was once a mechanic…. he said its difficult to understand how difficult it is to get back on your feet once you’re so far down…. a downward spiral you dont know how to spin back in sync from.
Today I did something I’m not proud of. I had three egg omelette at the local sandwhich/coffee shop and could not finish even half of it. I debated taking a “to go” box but I’m on campus all day so the thought of hanging onto egg for 8+ hours didnt sound too appealig as I’d quickly have the library all to myself from the lovely eggy smell as it drifted as the hours passed. So I threw it away. Then as I walked to school two homeless people approached me and asked me if I could offer them anything. I shook my head. They nodded and sighed and proceeded to go through the trash can next to them in search for food. I can’t even explain how awful that felt.
When I see people in those situations I can’t help but wonder. Where are your parents? Your siblings? Aunts? Uncles? Many of the homeless are mentally ill, when the asylums were opened years ago because of the improper treatment meted out there, many of the mentally ill had no place else to go but the streets….The homeless are abandoned by everyone. If I stop and think about all government Pork Barrel projects and how that money could do so much for such people… I dont know.. bless the people who run shelters and food kitchens.. but to be homeless must be what it is to be truly alone.