I saw a Facebook post the other day complaining about homeless people working various intersections in our communities. It wasn’t an angry rant, but it didn’t exactly make a case for helping these folks either.
The post simply stated that the homeless people shouldn’t be seen at the intersections in our towns. It referenced 95th Street and Ridgeland Avenue, but if you’re out and about on a regular basis, you know that homeless or underprivileged folks—not all of them are homeless, I suspect—work several intersections in many Southland towns.
There’s no question their numbers have increased of late. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see two homeless folks working the same intersection. Harlem Avenue at 143th Street is a good example. Rising unemployment, the lack of homeless shelters and a decrease in mental health facilities are some of the reasons why we see more people who live on life’s fringes seeking our help.
They walk between the rows of cars lined up at busy intersections, often displaying hastily put together cardboard signs that mention that they’re homeless, out of work or willing to work. One man I’ve seen even mentions that he has a cell phone and will take any odd job.
Anything to get by. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Most drivers stare straight ahead and don’t give these people a nickel. Now and then, someone will roll down their window and offer spare change or a dollar.
Many hesitate to contribute because they believe their contributions will be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. Still others hold onto the foolish belief that these folks should simply get a job rather than beg.
I’m sure some people who work the corners do use the money for drugs and alcohol rather than food and shelter. I suppose various addictions and dependencies are what lead to homeless in the first place. It’s a vicious circle.
Others are probably so accustomed to their current circumstances that survival mode is all they know. Clearly they’d need significant help transitioning into everyday society. Maybe they don’t want to rejoin society or become productive. Maybe the idea scares them. I don’t know.
The intersection of 87th Street and Pulaski Road is another popular spot for those shaking a cup. My wife and I see them frequently when we travel through that area. It’s a busy intersection with long lights. I imagine that makes it a good corner for soliciting donations.
My wife tired of offering a dollar here and loose change there to one of the men who routinely works the intersection, so she occasionally bought him food at McDonald’s instead. Judging from the speed at which he ate the food, it was pretty clear he was hungry.
Most of us have never been hungry. We may have missed a meal or two or faced tough times when it was difficult to keep food on the table. But we’ve never stood on a corner, hoping strangers will offer enough money to buy some food and maybe afford a room at a cheap motel.
There’s no shortage of opinions when it comes to people who beg for money. Some, a minority, are happy to help out. In fact, one of the first responders to the Facebook poster noted that some of us are just one or two bad breaks from homelessness. Job loss, serious illness, the death a family’s chief provider. Just a few bad breaks, and many people are facing real trouble.
Not everyone has a safety net when adversity hits. They have little or no savings, no friends or family who can help out in the short term. Next thing they know, they’re on the streets or living in their car—a slightly better option, I suppose.
But the Facebook poster complaining about the presence of homeless people on street corners likely didn’t give that a thought. It’s far easier to grumble about something that’s unpleasant to see, something that reminds us that the less fortunate are members of our community. There was a time when the homeless were only seen downtown. They had regular spots where they hit up passers for money. But they rarely were seen in the neighborhoods we called home.
Times have changed. And I don’t have an answer for this dilemma. I’d like to think we could do better than forcing people to beg for money at busy intersections. I know we can do better than complaining about it.