If you live in a place with visible homelessness, you might have your own personal homeless people, the ones you see every day. These are people who are always in the same place, sometimes begging quietly, or perhaps sitting silently with a placard, or perhaps making a big loud announcement to the entire subway car, like the guy who made me write this just did.
This subway guy is a guy I see pretty much every day. He’s got this whole big story about how he’s unemployed, or today under employed, how he’s got a wife at home with their baby, and he just doesn’t make enough to make ends meet. When I first heard his tale of woe, he told the subway that his baby was a newborn, that he needed newborn things, like formula and diapers. I must admit that I judged this man, and his potentially fictitious wife, for formula feeding instead of breast feeding. I thought: make use of the resources you have.
Over the past few months, his story goes in and out, the kid gets older, the employment scenarios shift, and my assumption is that he’s been lying about the wife and family. He claims not to drink, not to do drugs. I’ve figured that if he’s lying about the family, then he definitely uses the money for at least liquor, and if he does have the family, he’s lying because he needs extra money so that he can get liquor without his wife finding out.
I’ve had no pity for this guy. This guy is not older than me although he looks like he’s seen some hard times. This guy is able bodied, and I’ve thought able bodied young men should not be begging on the subway. Where’s your pride, man? I’ve thought to myself. I’ve thought how giving this man money would be bad for him and the culture of homelessness in NYC. The last mayor even has this whole campaign specifically asking people not to give money to beggars, to instead contact the proper authorities who could help the person. The Mayor directed us to not take responsibility for the homeless people on ourselves, but to pass it on to the City.
There’s alot of that. There’s a big feeling that a thing shouldn’t be the responsibility of an individual, but the responsibility of a larger entity, perhaps an entity comprised of experts skilled to handle such things. A person can’t be responsible for all the hardships in their world. That’s what I tell myself about things, it’s not my responsibility, I have responsibilities, and helping homeless people isn’t one of them.
When I pass homeless people I feel guilty. I think of that passage where it says “that which you do to the least of mine you do to me.” I think how’s there’s no good reason that I should live comfortably, with a relative feeling of security for my family and I. I know that the worst case scenario for us, even if everything goes horribly, like just short of apocalypse, we’d probably be alright. We have big families, and we could team up with them if all hell broke loose. I think about that. And then I look at the homeless people and wonder what happened to their team, and think that if they don’t heave a team maybe I should volunteer, like picking the least athletic kid to be on your team in gym class. I know how it feels to get picked dead last, or to not be picked at all.
Today on the train, instead of seeing a liar, I saw God; I saw my son; I saw myself, unable to care for my family without begging strangers. I forked over a few bucks. Perhaps the man got drunk, perhaps he bought diapers. Either way, he needed something, and I hope he got it.