Friday, October 21, 2005

Aaron and the Homeless

Every other street, or neighborhood, ought to have one. I say this in response to the approach I’ve seen taken down on Houston by a more compassionate and understanding neighborhood. There’s a homeless man who lives – yes, resides – in a chair that sits outside a local Ray’s Pizza. He sleeps there, sheltered by the pizzerias’ awning, reclining against the wall and with this feet stretched out, back supported by a rickety chair. He has a large aluminum can hung around his neck, like a pasta sauce container, stripped of all recognition, and, for all purposes, is no more scruffy or banged up than the can itself. The community allows him to reside there, without calling on the police to catch him for loitering, even allows him to use the bathroom during operating hours to stay somewhat clean, and in return, he helps out around the neighborhood with small tasks. I have seen him, occasionally, sweeping the streets or delivering for the pizzeria. He seems sweet, not at all belligerent, and contributes to the neighborhood, becoming a staple rather than an eyesore, actually serving to give the place some LITERAL character.

Now, as a long time resident of Manhattan, I recognize that there’s a homeless problem. It’s one that seems insurmountable, and no long-standing solution has ever been offered. But how about something like this as a start? This neighborhood has not offered him a place to live, not welcomed him in with open arms: but they haven’t repelled him with pitchforks and fire either. Instead, they tolerate his presence – in fact, they, in cooperation with him, have found a way for both to benefit. I don’t mean to imply that the homeless are lesser creatures than the residentially-endowed or that they are a situation to be “tolerated” or “dealt with,” but merely that, in a city where being homeless is very much a social stigma, this seems to be a mutually beneficial fit. One that other neighborhoods with a charitable streak might want to consider.

We have all these people sleeping, unprotected and alone on the street. I’m not suggesting that we correct that overnight, but why not invite these people to sleep – one to a block – in our neighborhood? Find people who, due to circumstances are reduced to living on the street, and give them a halfway street on which they can rest a little easier. In a charitable cooperation, this person might be assured of three square a day, and a somewhat sheltered place to sleep, in return for which he/she might protect the premises (a living alarm) or help out with minor reconstruction/chores around the area. It costs us very little to help those who are suffering, but at the same time, it’s no surprise that we are more compelled by the intimate than the anonymous. Having a familiar face, a sort of outdoors doorman, might encourage the mutual relationship to grow: the homeless might be able to eventually better their situation through cooperation with local businesses (e.g. finding work) and hopefully, with legal employment and good relations with the surroundings, move up.

This is a serious topic, I understand, and I know that I don’t have quite the eloquent words to describe this. I also know that not all homeless people would take kindly to a relationship like this, one which, to some, would seem degrading and demeaning. And this is not a case of beggars not being choosers, because the moment a beggar loses the right to choose is the moment they lose their self-respect, the last ounce of their essence and self. What I’m saying is that it is difficult to find the appropriate methodology, and rather than having the current parasitic and defiling relationship, a more symbiotic approach, one cleaned up more than mine, seems like a good solution to an honest problem.

I post this here just because of the raw amount of homeless people I have seen recently, and the gentle way with which I have seen certain people treat them. People who have called them by their first name, or given sandwiches directly rather than money, as if they were children going off to school. Giving up a little curb seems a small sacrifice to enter into an overall more empowering relationship with the world and our community: and maybe I’m just in a naively inspired mood (for what is inspiration but na├»ve?), but couldn’t the residents of the Houston area have hit on something crucial and key?

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