One afternoon my brother and I were playing bounce and fly with our dad against the old brick wall behind his antique store, when out of nowhere this homeless dude appeared. I was about eight or nine at the time, and had never really seen a man in such broken down shape before, he was hunched over to the left, limping, greasy black hair hanging in his eyes, lips and eyes swollen, and talking in our general direction as he walked.
I burst into tears. I don't know if it was my fear, my sadness, or my surprise at seeing someone so beat down, but I still remember vividly how terrifying it was. My dad consoled me, but in a bit of a scolding fashion. He told me that this guy was his friend and that he helped him out every once in a while. He told me that I was scaring him.
I was scaring him.
After my dad talked with him and gave him some money, he explained to me the hard life the guy had had, how society wouldn't really allow him to succeed, him being Native American and poor. He told me that most people like that just hadn't ever been taken care of, and that was no reason to be afraid of them.
I re-live that moment in my head every time I interact with homeless people, and this summer, that is almost every day. I am handing out love stickers all over the US, and one of my rules is that I don't avoid people, no matter how rich or poor looking they are.
In fact, I would say that most of the homeless people I approach seem pretty overjoyed with my project, and give more hugs than any other group of people I encounter. My guess is that most people would prefer to ignore the homeless. I mean, I get it, they smell, they very typically want your money, and they very often look like they slept in the gutter. But when you look at them, they usually behave like a kid on Christmas.
It's not that I don't have a visceral reaction to smelling days of old urine on a person, it's not that I am not still a little intimidated, it's just that I can't help but remember my father's reaction to my horror. Embarrassment.
My dad was embarrassed that his daughter was not open to this scary stranger, and frankly, part of me is still a little ashamed. Bursting into tears at the sight of someone is not exactly the best way to go about meeting new people. Even if they are a little scary.
And the number of homeless people across the country is growing. The more that people fall through the cracks, the more they are pushed to living on the streets. What does this have to do with self love? What does this have to do with body positivity? It's that we can't possibly live in a society where so many people are left behind. We can't allow ourselves, as thinking, feeling people, to allow this.
Bussing people to other cities, moving to other neighborhoods, or avoiding city parks is not going to make this probem go away. Eventually, we are going to have to figure out a way to care for people. Eventually we are going to have to accept that these people are not separate from us, they are us.
They are part of the organism we call humanity, and ignoring them is like ignoring that weird pain in your side that pops up when you bend to the left. That stabbing pain that shoots through you to the point that it keeps you from bending that way.
It is not like our society is becoming more just, or that economic inequality is evening out. These people are growing in numbers. The more the "Haves" have, the less for the rest. That is what we are looking at.
Caring for people, even ugly, smelly people, is something that must happen, and soon, politically, econmically, and socially. VA programs defunded, insane asylums closed down, and care facilities that no longer take in and rehabilitate those in need are just some of the reason the homeless population is growing.
The question is, what can I do? I have seen many people and places struggling to help, but what can our society do, a society that gives more to the military and large corporate interests than to education, healthcare, and support for the needy?
The answer is in the question.
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
~Dwight D. Eisenhower