When I walk through the city at lunchtime I put singles in my pockets so that when I pass homeless people holding change-cups, I can easily give them money without opening my wallet on the downtown streets--something I'm loathe to do, even in the best of sunny blue-sky afternoontimes.
But I don't always give them the money.
Maybe I am a hypocrite. Some homeless people scare me.
Cincinnati is a fairly large town. We have a decently diverse body of homeless people. It's no Chicago or New York, but there are a good-sized number of them here. Ever since Katrina, I've seen more diversity in the homeless population. I rather doubt that any of the people I'm seeing are evacuees, because frankly, most of them could not possibly have gotten their shit together enough to have made the trip from Looziana to Cincinnati without being arrested, shot, or accidentally killed from walking in front of a bus. I don't know if the hurricane has a direct correlation with the numbers and weirdness of the people on the street or not. Probably not. I'm probably just imagining it.
My building is in an area downtown that's sort of the arse-end before you get into the warehouse district where no homeless people hang out because there's nothing there except old buildings and broken glass and twisted metal. There's no one to panhandle from there. Homeless people are more rare in the area where my building is than in the northeast part of town, up near the jail, where they live on the streets in clusters. When I see a homeless person on the street where my building is, they're in dire, dire straits. They've usually been forcibly shunted down thataway by the rest of the homeless people who congregate in the more populated areas. Last winter, there was a woman out on the streetcorner in the bitterest cold, walking in circles and picking her feet up and shaking her hands and crying. I gave her money on numerous occasions and it always made her cry and say "thank you" in a slurred-with-cold voice. Once I gave her a pair of gloves and I thought she was going to evaporate with gratitude. I asked M if he could ask his cop buddies to look out for her. I saw her yelling at some people in a van once who offered to take her to a shelter. She was yelling "I can't go back there" and getting ready to cry some more.
Sometimes I crossed the street to avoid her teary face and her torn clothes and her utter and complete desperation. It's not that it scared me so much as that it hurt me because seeing it on her face made me feel just a fraction of it and I didn't have a capable way to handle it.
Now and then I see her up in the park near our old office, in the more populated part of town. She's always eating lunch out of a plastic bag. She looks a lot better than last winter. I hope she's not back down on the corner again this year.
Other homeless people I have seen regularly:
- There was an elderly Asian woman wandering around in a pink jumpsuit for a few weeks last summer. She looked shellshocked, as if she had no idea who she was or what she was doing or where she was or anything.
- A middle-aged, very thin black woman wearing a torn t-shirt and jeans walking through throngs of lunching businesspeople on the streets, pleading in a hopeless way for money. A homeless person who is walking through crowds holding her hands out asking for money is much more desperate than one who sits on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign and a cup. This woman had very obviously lost all hope and was only walking around asking people for money to keep herself moving and alive. I gave her money last year. I haven't seen her this year.
- The autistic guy and the woman with him. They always have a little milk carton full of snacks and gum that they're trying to sell from their sidewalk seat in the sun. They're older, probably in their sixties. The man is always rocking back and forth, twisting his fingers together. He always wears shorts and his thighs are burned from the sun. The woman is always smiling. I haven't bought anything from them, but today I planned to. I walked by their space where they always sit outside the Skyline Chili, but there was a scaffolding there and I couldn't find them.
- The guy with one leg, perpetually leaning on his crutches outside the Federal Reserve bar. I'm pretty sure he's a veteran.
- The dude who sits outside the Walgreens and talks to you about the weather and doesn't ask for money. He just swirls around the change in his white plastic cup. He calls all the blessings of Allah down on your head if you give him money.
One of these days I ought to write a post about M's job. About the people he tells me about. The faces he sees on the news and says, I know that person. I found a bag of crack on him last year, or she's been arrested more times than any other woman in the county, or that guy was brought in on child-rape charges, or that woman beat her son with a dinner plate.
I know this isn't very cheery. I'm having some adjustment difficulties coming back to essentially meaningless, trite stuff-I-do-for-a-living after a really nice vacation during which I felt more in touch with who I am when I'm not dealing with all this shit than I have in a long time. I have a good job. It pays decently. My coworkers are great. But when I get home from there, I know that I haven't done anything to make the world better. And I don't know how much longer I can do this. It's putting a hole in me.
My pictures from the Black Hills are now up on Flickr. In that set you'll see some buffalo, some donkies, and a turkey, and also the moon, one of our campsites, and some poison ivy. If you're bored, you can wander outside that photoset and into some recently posted but not sorted stuff, where you'll find a picture of yours truly. I hope to get the Badlands pictures up some time tomorrow.