He was sleeping outside of a coffee shop in Silver Lake, sound asleep as people were walking in and out with cups of freshly roasted and brewed coffee. I’m sure he could smell the strong musk of the beans and hear people walking and talking about the random and trivial minutia that fills their lives. However, having lived in the streets, for who knows how long, had allowed him to build a callous on his eardrums to such noise. The passersby had also developed a callous, but theirs was on their hearts, and an indifference to this man’s squalid lot in life. To these java fanatics, this man was merely part of the scenery, the kitschiness that allows them to sleep at night thinking that their neighborhood is still urban, yet chic.
It isn’t hard to spot or come across the growing indigent population in LA. To be quite frank, they’re everywhere. Some say that the city of LA needs to do something about the “problem”. Well, I think that’s where the real problem lies, the fact that we consider these defenseless, sometimes violent sick people “problems” that someone needs to fix. Turning something into a “problem” automatically allows us as citizens to wash our hands and pass on the burden of responsibility to someone else, usually an elected official. Crime is a problem, violence is a problem and many other things in our society are problems. However, homelessness is not a problem that the Mayor or the Governor or even the President can solve. It’s a societal problem as much as it is a personal problem.
As humans, we evolved to live and work in small to large communities. We like to interact with other people and when the opposite is true, we classify it as a disorder. Yet, when it comes to the homeless, we purposefully and deliberately, consciously or unconsciously, shun them out as they attempt to drag their noxious deceased bodies back to the fringes of civilized life, which is where we allow them to dwell. These people are truly disenfranchised, a word that is a favorite of privileged minorities. We’ve actively discarded them through the glitzy gentrification of Downtown and have treated them like animals due to their violent behavior which is in turn due to their mental illness. As a result, they themselves have eschewed the societal conventions that make one civilized and have embraced the lifestyle that civilized folk like us have thrust upon them. In other words, they became like animals because that’s how we treated and continue to treat them.
As a society, we have continually failed the homeless population, many of them perishing in squalor and not knowing that a better life is possible. This is an issue that needs to be dealt with from a humane perspective. The government does need to create policies that benefit this sector of its constituency, but that’s not all that needs to be done. We need to do our part, as well.
If you see a homeless person, don’t automatically assume that they are out to get you. Most of them are trying to get by just like you and me. If you have an extra dollar or change, give it to them if the ask you nicely. The same can be said about leftovers from a night out. Yes, some of them will reject it because they are looking exclusively for a monetary donation, but it never hurts to try. Don’t let the stereotype of “he’s probably going to use the money to buy drugs” deter you from giving. So what if this lady is going to score some meth with the dollar you gave her, she’s got nothing else going for her, maybe that’s the only thing keeping her alive.
I’m not suggesting you strike a conversation with a homeless person or invite one to your house, but if you happen to feel some guilt or remorse or any feeling in your heart, even disgust, think about how we have all failed that person as a community and as a city. All you have to do is give, whatever happens after that is out of your hands and in the rest of ours.