Points Of View

Posted: May 1, 2007 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions

Cell phones are wonderful tools. They’ve become an everyday part of our society. And, believe it or not, many homeless people have them. Although I haven’t taken a poll, a rough guess would be that about 20% of all of the homeless people I know have one.

Mine came in handy this last week.  

My significant other had been having severe pains in her lower right side. At first she thought that it might be an appendicitis attack.

I had to leave early while she stayed in "bed" a bit longer. About 30 minutes later she called and told me that she felt like she needed to go to the hospital. I rushed to meet her and off we went to the emergency room. And while, in the end, she didn’t have appendicitis, it could have been something serious. That’s one instance where our having cell phones have come in handy.

Another is in the case of getting work. While I have to admit that I haven’t had much luck at getting "full time" employment, I have had a number of "day jobs" that have turned out with providing me with several days of steady work at a time. In essence, my cell phone has pretty much paid for itself.

But, this last weekend, that fact that I’m homeless and have a cell phone got me a tongue lashing from a non-homeless member of this community.

I had been sitting and waiting for a bus at the downtown transit center. While there I received a call that I had been waiting for. Just before my call ended a woman came and sat in the same "bus shelter" I was sitting in and just as soon as I hung up she angrily said to me:

"You people make me sick!"

Since I had been concentrating on the phone call that I had just had, and considering I was minding my own business, I was caught off guard and the only reply I had was: "Excuse me?"

"If you people didn’t spend your money on stupid things like cell phones and fancy CD players maybe you would have the money to support yourselves and you wouldn’t have to sponge off the rest of us!"

She went on for quite a bit more.

I’m ashamed to admit that when she finished I had a flash of anger and I thought to myself: "What in the world is wrong with this woman? She has no right to judge me or tell me what I should or shouldn’t do! She doesn’t know a bloody thing about me – or even how or why I’m homeless and here she is passing judgment on me!"

In the few moments that I had those thoughts I realized that that was the problem – she didn’t know me; she didn’t know what had caused me to become homeless. As soon as those thoughts penetrated into my mind all of a sudden I went from anger to feeling very old and tired. And, I felt sad. Not for myself, but for this woman.

I’m happy to say that I didn’t lash out at her or say anything unkind or untoward. I simply sighed and said: "Yes, ma’am."

A few minutes later on the bus, as I sat staring out the window I felt like weeping. I could feel the tears begin to well in the corners of my eyes. I wondered just how many others, like that woman, were out in the world.

Having been homeless now for nearly 18 months, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three types of non-homeless people in the mainstream community: those who, although they know the homeless are there, are indifferent to the homeless; those who view the homeless with utter contempt and disdain; and those who view the homeless through the eyes of compassion.

Clearly this woman belonged in the second group. And, for some reason, this group frightens me more than those who are indifferent toward the homeless. Perhaps it’s because I know that, if left unchecked, contempt can become hatred – and hatred has a way of feeding on itself. More than that – hatred has a way of infecting the minds and hearts of others.

As I rode on the bus, I closed my eyes to keep the tears from coming out when all of a sudden I heard a vaguely familiar voice say to me:

"Well, hello young man."

When I opened my eyes I saw the smiling face of an elderly Asian woman who rides the same route I do. Her and I have had quite a number of conversations at one time or another during our us rides.

"Hi! How are you today, Ma’am?"

"I’m fine, just older than yesterday. And how are you?"

"Actually," I said to her, "believe it or not, I’m feeling pretty good now."

As she started telling me about the things that had been happening in her life, I could once again feel the tears start to well up in the corners of my eyes. The desire to weep was different this time. It was a type of joy that I was experiencing. I knew that so long as there were people in my community – in my nation – like this dear woman who was happily talking to me, even though I am homeless, gave me a sense of peace…

… A sense of hope.

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