The city I live in doesn’t generally have rough, or even freezing winters. We’re more known for temperate weather, although some of us think 95 F is a bit above “temperate”. As a result, we have a booming and thriving homeless population, that makes up a fair chunk of the disenfranchised. Many of our highways are built as “flyovers” (read, if you’re scared of heights, this sucks) and cross the city. A whole bunch of them, tangled, interwoven and completely unintuitive – and there are places where there are full on communities of the homeless living under these flyovers. Some of them do it for the protection from the elements, others for the stoplights, and easy access to mini-marts.
There are outreach programs, some of which are sourced from the county, others from various church organizations. Everything from medical care, to food, clothing, and offers of shelter or rehab help is offered to these people. There are a number of resources available, so not everyone is homeless out of bad luck. Some people choose it, and while I’m not trying to be ugly, I don’t feel comfortable around these people. Especially the ones who will aggressively come up to the car, or start washing the windshield, even though I’ve said “NO” and shook my head – and then back off saying “You don’t owe me anything”. No, I don’t.
There are communities on the South side of town that are “self governing” under these flyovers. It’s my understanding that not only is this where “The Church Under the Bridge” type of events occur, it’s also one of the safer places for the people who need caring for. I applaud those people for making the best of a bad situation, and creating rules, and excising people who can’t get along with others. I think they have rotations as to who gets to panhandle and when.
Downtown, it can get nasty. Funnily enough, that’s where the shelter is – but of course, one cannot sleep on the street, legally. The panhandlers down there are very aggressive – grabby, screamy, and generally under the influence of heaven only knows what. It makes going downtown in the evenings especially uncomfortable – and some of that is due to the fact that’s where there are a number of bars with loud music, drunk college kids, and iffy respect for personal bubbles. I’ve also found that the homeless downtown are more likely to proselytize than the ones up here.
When we lived in the apartments, one of our neighbors would drive down by the dog park, and stand on the corner, panhandling, claiming to be homeless. She liked looking at the dogs (OK, I’m with her on that) but really, what she was doing was earning money to pay for her beer and cigarettes – things her benefits wouldn’t cover. It kind of pissed me off – like the guy who looked like shoe leather, who’d stand on the corner shirtless by the grocery. He’d go into the grocery and ask the cashiers to convert his “earnings” into bills, or larger bills. At the end of the day, someone would pick him up in a nice enough car, so yeah…. I don’t know.
I’ve tried talking to some of the homeless (kind of hard to avoid it when you utilize public transit) and everyone of them has some story of incredible valor and tragic woes, and this is all they can do – unless I know of a place for them to crash for a while. (Weirdo Magnet – ACTIVATE!) Right pal, I’m going to drag you out of this mess, and devote my life to you? Mmmm, nope. And that of course, makes me feel like a worthless and ruthless, cold black hearted bitch.
On the other hand, at least half the homeless I see, at least in this neighborhood, have better haircuts, better clothes, nicer shoes and fancier phones than I do. They also all positively reek of cigarette smoke, and generally have a “fo’ty” near by. I’m not really inclined to be sympathetic or an enabler when it comes down to things. I also rarely carry cash these days, which worries me – one day these guys are going to have chip readers on their phones.
What brings up this thought process and ranting today? Well, today’s contestants – Emotional Brain and Rational Brain are battling it out in…. How big an asshole is Liz for calling the cops on a homeless woman, and why? Contestants? Are youuuuu READY?
I received a panicked text from my sister this morning, she had a job that started at “stupid o’clock” and would run on until “stupid o’clock”. Could I let her fur children out for a few moments mid-day? She’s an interpreter, and sometimes her jobs take a super long time, and she won’t give any details ever, because that violates her client’s rights. I’m cool with that – and so when she asks, I try to help her out. Her dogs are freaking adorable too. So, I’m on the most logical route to her home, which means getting on a flyover. Ergo, I will hit the red light, and I will have to go from RBF to GTFO faces pretty quickly. This woman, whom I’ve never seen before is walking through traffic, making the finger rubbing motions at every car that is stopped. She does not stop or return to her little slab of sidewalk when the light changes. No shoes – and I guarantee that pavement is 110 F or higher – but not as high as she seems to be.
I decided to call the non-emergency line, who told me that yes, that was an emergency, and passed me over to 911. I explained the situation, that she seemed disoriented and was disrupting traffic flow, and they got her description and ended the call. Emotional Brain is saying, “Hey, she could have been really ill, really high, screwed up traffic, died…” while Rational Brain is rebutting with “Hmm. Perhaps. Or perhaps you have a prejudice against the homeless.” When I came home from telling the dogs how brave and wonderful they were, she was gone, and some other guy had that corner. (But not the guy that kicks trash into the street if you don”t give him anything. He’ll be out when I pick up my husband from work.)
I’m struggling here. I understand there are shades of grey and some people are more broken or lost than others. I understand some make choices I wouldn’t, and I understand this is a lot of issue for a small blog post. I just don’t know if I did the right or kind thing in calling the police.
This is going to bug me all day, damnit..