Although the central California coast is still enjoying nice temperatures during the day, in the early morning and evenings the mercury takes a dip. Normally, I have a choice in the mornings: coffee or hot chocolate. For some reason though, the hot chocolate seems to taste better (at least to me) on mornings when the weather is a bit cooler.
Yesterday, at the small shopping center where I have my morning cup, I stopped for a few minutes to chat with one of the homeless gentlemen who frequents that area. He sleeps rough – meaning that he doesn’t get a bed at the local homeless shelter, and subsequently doesn’t usually get to eat dinner there either.
I’d already had in mind to pass him a few dollars so that he could go down to the McDonald’s and get himself breakfast. Before I could reach into my pocket however, a young man – perhaps in his early thirties – pulled his car along the curb near to where we were talking. As the young man in the car motioned to homeless gentleman, I heard him say: "I have some food for you." Through the passenger window he handed the homeless gentleman a bag from Taco Bell, then he drove away with a smile on his face.
When the homeless gentleman came back to where I had stood waiting for him, he reached into the bag and pulled out what were supposed to have been nachos. What I saw inside made me groan inwardly: a half eaten order of nachos with a wadded up, used napkin in the container. The gentleman then pulled out the wrapping of what looked like it was supposed to be a burrito. When he unwrapped the burrito, it too, turned out to have been already half eaten. In addition, an empty "taco sauce" had been left inside the wrapping. What made all of it more of an insult is that the food looked to be at least a day or two old.
In my mind’s eye, I could see the smile on the face of the young man in the vehicle as he’d driven away. Almost immediately I thought about how utterly insensitive and inhumane a person he’d been; how disgusting his actions had been. There simply had been no need for it. Considering that the food he’d "offered" to the homeless gentleman was obviously garbage in his own eyes, I couldn’t understand why anyone would behave in such a grotesque manner in the first place. His actions had been deliberately malicious.
To be quite honest, it made me angry – extremely angry. And, each time throughout the day as I thought about it, I’d find myself getting angry all over again. Then somewhere around mid-evening a thought occurred to me: I wondered if that young man would have behaved that same way if his wife or girlfriend had been in the vehicle with him. Or would he have behaved humanely for the sake of appearances?
As a society, we seem to have become "reality TV" junkies. Somewhere along the line, we’ve developed a type of American Idol mentality.
And that makes me wonder –
What if each one of our actions were constantly being filmed and broadcast for the rest of the world to see? Would we go out of our way to treat the homeless kindly just so that everyone else would think highly of us? Or would we let our true selves come to the surface? And, what if the rest of the "audience" were asked to "call in" to vote on our "performance" – would we move on to the next round? Or would we be "voted off" the show?
I know that not everyone views the homeless the way that young man apparently did. There are folks in the mainstream community who genuinely care about the homeless and are ready to extend a hand of compassion. To those folks I offer kudos.
On the other hand, however, there are those folks who do not even consider the homeless as being people – much less as people who are worthy of being treated with basic human dignity.
Effectively addressing and reducing homelessness in our communities requires the concerted efforts everyone – and not just a handful of folks.
Civic leaders must come to recognize that creating and adopting laws and ordinances which penalize the homeless are not viable solutions. Rather, they must use their positions to implement public awareness campaigns; provide adequate funding and resources to create avenues of escape from the streets for the homeless.
Homeless support services organizations must stop acting as "emergency service" providers and cease functioning as "soup kitchens." They must begin creating and maintaining programs to help the homeless become self-sustaining and thereby transition back into the community.
As for the rest of us: perhaps if we started imagining that our behavior and attitude toward the homeless were being watched on nationwide television we’d be less apt to avert our gaze and be more willing to lend a helping hand.
Reality TV would never be the same, would it?