Friday, April 14, 2006

Homelessness

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!
Aisha: Riiiiiiiight
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.

27 comments:

Bongi-Amma said...

:(

Shabina said...

i had the charity beat for a few months at my paper, and covering metro Detroit's homeless was heart-breaking.

everyone has a story, and though i often felt helpless, at least being around them reminded me that i could fall anytime, no matter how many cushions i have, if that's what Allah (SWT) wanted. ya heard?

mayya said...

I read John Grisham's The Street Lawyer which is on homeless people and what the US society does for them. At least there are kitchens and other homes and detox centers supported by the state there..I shudder to even imagine the state of homeless people in the 3rd world :(

Aisha said...

Shabs, i hear ya sis. Our belief in the firmness of our footing is but an illusion.

Mayya, havent read that book. there are programs ofcourse... but its still a despairing situation since we spend 500,000 to fund studies on the meaning of love... when there are people sifting through garbage cans for meals.

Sylvia said...

I never heard of pork barrel projects before! Too bad homeless people don't make good constituents for the congress to try to appeal to.

Southern Masala said...

I really have a hard time with this one. For the people who are truly needy I feel really bad for them and I want to help. I will give them food, but I won't give them money. Actually, a common thing in Alabama would be for people to drive up in a rickety old car when you are in the parking lot and say they were out of town and out of money and needed to get home for a family emergency, so can we just give them 5 bucks for gas. M always offers to follow them to a gas station and fill their tank. You would be amazed at how many people refuse! Then you know that they just want the money for drugs or alcohol or something. Of course, those are just con artists, not true homeless, and at least the have a car (even if they have to sleep in it). So that story really doesn't have a point, except that it is better to give food and help rather than straight cash in my opinion.

Enyur said...

Again, lovely post. I didn't know people without homes existed in Canada until I went to downtown.

It's heart wrenching to see people without homes, especially in the winter when they're sleeping on the frozen concrete ground curled up in a ball without nothing more than a frozen cardboard to cover them.

My curiousity led me to ask why they didn't live at home or go to the many shelters provided.

Apparently, most of these people either have no family or have just decided they do not want to live with them. Some of them are mentally ill to the point where their families don't want to bother with them, because they feel they have no control over that person.

Then there are those who have been to the shelters and have described it as being worse than life on the streets, because they claim they've been abused or have been a victim of violence.

My research into the drug - crystal methamphetamine - shows that many of these people that live on the streets, take the drug to stay awake (they binge on the drug to keep them awake 24/7) so that they can stay awake all night and day to protect themselves from other people on the streets (i.e. from rape etc).

Many of these people, if they wanted to could apply for social assistance but they don't because a) they don't have the guidance
b) mentally ill

It definitely is sad. I try to give as much as I could, but there's only so much we can do.

p.s. it's interesting you bring this up because I was talking to someone just the other day who said that to call someone a "Home person" is to stigmatize and that we should call them "people without homes". I thought it was an interesting perspective.

Enyur said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Enyur said...

Sorry I meant "HomeLESS people." Also just to add to the comment, I'm sure there are some of them out there that DO actually have homes, they just use panhandling as an extra source of income and are too lazy to work.

SO there is that whole notion of who do you and do you not believe issue that exists. For instance, I used to support an poor child in Azbekistan. I was told that money was going toward his schooling and warm clothes for winter. It gave me this great satisfaction knowing that I was doing something for this child, even though I may not meet him nor would he know who's supporting him. After two years, I never heard about that organization...so now I don't even know if that money actually went to this child!

So it's things like these that can turn people away from helping at times. I guess we should do as much as we could. Like I said, there's only so much we can do.

Aisha said...

Southern, wow they denied the chance to get free gas if he offered to take them there?? That's strange. I mean even if you're a scammer whyp ass up free gas? I dont get it. It is hard to not give money but you know it could go towards bad purposes.

Sylvia, I agree!

Enyur, WOW you gave a lot of thought to this issue. I CANT BELIEVE there are people in cardboard boxes in CANADA in the WINTERTIME. How on earth do they even survive??? I really hope the charity you gave money to really did pass the cash onto the child they claimed it was going to. Insh'allah just pray that the organization went bankrupt or something and not like a con artist closed up shop and disappeared. BBCD if you read her site has a website on her site called Muslimhands or something where you can sponsor a child and it is legit. I'm planning to do that.

Aisha said...

oh Enuyur- and about people panhandling but not really being broke, if you like to read stephen king at all, his book hearts of atlantis has a short story at the end of the book about a man who does that which is AWESOMELY written. I adore Stephen King's gift of writing laikin he is tooooo good at writing horror stories so I dont read him for then I cannot sleep :) But this one about the panhandler is not a scary story, ust very very good.

momyblogR said...

Man oh man, this is a subject I struggle with and debate, often.

Some people insist that the homeless really WANT to be homeless. Ugh! As I stand in my kitchen chopping veggies for dinner, having a glass of wine and listening to a favorite CD....I'm supposed to believe that these people want to have NOWHERE to call home. I'm quite sure I'll never believe that.

I'm afraid I'm a huge pushover when it comes to people approaching me. I typically give them enough to buy a meal. I know it's probably NOT going to buy a that but I feel I have to do it on the off change they really are hungry.

Once in the winter months I saw one of my friends leaving his wooded home area and so badly wanted to bring him wood we had at home. My Husband made me promise to NOT going looking for them, I did and I haven't but it kills me.

I don't know the right answer but I'm one that goes where my heart leads. That is the best I can do....right or wrong. :(

Oh, you were a Gator? So was my brother....Go Gators! lol.

Enyur said...

Yeah, sadly there are people who cover themselves with cardboards...and i'm not talking about cutting out cardboard houses, they litterall drape themselves with it like a blanket. Every night I go to bed, I thank God for the warm blankey that covers me!

Sometimes I wonder, what if we all compared ourselves to the 'have nots' instead of the people who 'have' luxury etc. Wouldn't we be a bit more happier and greatful?

Hmmm...Hearts of Atlantis? I will definitely pick that up (after I finish reading Midnight Rain by Holly Lisle). And yes Stephen King's an amazing horror story writer!

Thanks!! :o)

mystic-soul said...

What I do:

I give extra tip to people who are selling newspaper, water bottle, towels, toys etc. (But I hate windshield cleaners)

Only change...NO

Southern Masala said...

Hey Aisha,

Is that Stephen King short story the one about the guy who pretends to be a blind veteran? Just want to know if I am thinking of the right story

Chic Mommy said...

that's just a sad story. I wish there was someway to eradicate this problem of hunger, poverty and homelessness.

Aisha said...

Mommyblogr I think in the end its all about intention :) And yes, I'm a gator!!! :) Go gators! :)

Enyur, yes before we look at those ahead we should pause and remember those behind us as well :) Do you recommend the book yo'ure reading right now?

Southern, yes that's the book! :) Did you read it? It's good isnt it??

Chic, yeah I guess there isn't... but I guess at the very least we can appreciate what we have.

Mystic yes, its nice to see people who are not simply begging but are actually trying to do something and earn their way, they certainly should be supported.

Raheel said...

The same dilemma comes to me while watching street beggars in Pakistan because some really have made it a profession. If I help someone, I make sure he does some work. Or else when I feel like giving, I give on the benefit of doubt.. this is a rare case. I think maybe God wants to give him/her this by my means. We are so lucky and we should Thanks God for every blessing that he has bestowed upon us.

Enyur said...

The book is about a woman who runs away from her abusive husband and keeps running. It's a mystery (not the kind I had expected) but it's interesting. Aside from the "other stuff* hint: this book should be rated R lol! if you like mystery/thrillers it's an okay read.

Aisha said...

Raheel, I went to Pakistan much too long ago at the age of 8 and so my memories are vague, however, the image of the destituteness of the beggars of Pakistan has never left me. It must be a very difficult thing to see day in and out...

Enyur, interesting :) Mystery/thrillers are okay I havent read one of those in a while but the rated R makes me think I'll pass :)

Enyur said...

Hehehe yeah I'm mean it's a good book just a little too you know what. I actually picked it up at book stall. But I definitely want to read that Stephen King book you mentioned. By the way, do you know of any other book that's similar to Memoirs of A Geisha? I loved reading that book! Commute time was almost magically cut in half! lol!

Zak said...

I've seen and heard the whole spectrum those who dont deserve to be homeless and those who do! There was a beggar in Saudi Arabia..when he passed away they had to clear out his dwelling..while they were at it they found a huge stash of money.. the guy was a professional beggar.

A few years back i remember i was coming out of Juma prayers in Pakistan and a beggar stopped me..I gave her 5 rupees..she suddenly came after me and said shed return 5 if i gave her 10! I literally had to leg out of there the way she was trying to hold on to me!

Aisha said...

Enyur.. hm so what genre do you like? I enjoyed Babpsi Sidhwa's book "Pakistani Bride" (I think its the name of the book) about a girl named Zaytoon who loses her parents in the partition and is raised by a pathan widower and just chronicles her life as she marries one her adoptive father's abusive nephews. Zadie Smith wrote a great book called "white teeth" and wrote two books, Haveli and ... I can't think of the other but its a two part story of a girl in Lahore but very dramatic kinda like Geisha style story. Haveli is the sequel and I can't remember which one came before it. But those two books are young adult books but they are really really engrossing reads. Time just flies! :) Of all the ones I recommended I think the two novels by Staples are the easiest reads :) Hope that helped?

Zak, wow she came back to barter your money for more money?? You should have snatched the 5 rupees too as you shoved yourself away from her! I've heard of professional beggars, in Turkey I remember the children would look so pitiful and beg and you wanted to give it to them but we got into a convefrsation with one little boy and he in broken english explained he didnt keep any of the money, he gave it to a higher up guy. Very very sad. In Pakistan I heard its even more dangerous to give to homeless children b/c they are often kidnapped and sometimes they disfigure the child to make them more pitiful and generate more money. So our well intentioned money ends up furthering their business.

Enyur said...

Thanks! I love reading murder mysteries (hence my background in criminology!) But I also love reading stories that are close to reality and draw on other cultural experienes - like Memoirs of A Geisha.

I'll check out the books you mentioned, the sound interesting! Thanks :o)

stabani said...

very interesting.... I have the same debate when I give to beggars here in Pakistan. I just can't help give some spare change to the kids! It's heartbreaking.
But the problem is that most are part of the beggar mafia. some will become drug dealers, some will engage in prosituttion while some will grow up just like they are now. So sad!

Aisha on your last comment, yes, some of the beggar mafia members disfigure themselves to make more money. There is a whole "beggar mafia". if you go in the morning you can actually see one of the suzukis loading up the beggars and dropping them off at their points. the areas for beggary is also sold at a regular basis to smaller lords (bigger lords have largers areas, and the main guy rules them all) who then assign them to smaller people who have to meet targets in order to stay on the street. Prostitution and drug trade go hand in hand with beggary, and some beggars are even made to forcefully take drugs so that they are hooked and thus in the control of their higher-ups.

Aisha said...

Stabani thanks for sharing that. I had heard about them drugging some of the kids so they dont somehow show a look of desperation or ask for help though let's be real, most people are so self involved when will they look outside their own lives to help these people? Do you know if the gov't is doing anything to crack down on this?

Tee said...

This is a topic I also think about often. Just yesterday at an intersection a scruffy looking older man held a cardboard sign that said "HOMELESS VET" ... It was a little chilly and raining really hard that afternoon.

I don't carry cash on me almost ever and I haven't gotten into the habit yet of carrying food or anything. I felt bad but since I had nothing to give, I just sat there in my nice minivan feeling sick about it.

My 7 yo Nick was in the backseat and he said, "Home Less... What is Home LESS?" - I told him it is someone without a home. He said, "Oh my gosh, Mommy - give him this - and dumped the contents of his wallet into my hand. It was less than .50 and I felt ashamed to offer it to the man, but I had to, for my son. I put the window down and waved him over. I dropped the change in his hand and apologized, "I'm sorry, it's all we have." He said, "Thank you" and went back to his corner.

I don't know if he added that to a big stash to go buy liquor or drugs. It's sad that we have to think about that... The stories I have read in comments about the little children who are used are heartbreaking.

I often wonder with so many devout Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc - why are there people suffering like this. Our beliefs tell us to take them in and to help them - and yet we don't. We say we can't trust their motives. We have to protect ourselves and our families, etc.... But it's just sad... And the word "sad" is so inadequate.

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