One day as I stopped at a red light. There was a gentleman sitting on the grassy pavement right across from my window, and it looked like he was saying something to me. I opened my window and he asked the usual question that we have heard so often here in Hemet, “Can you spare some change?”
I laughed and said, “Do you see my car? It takes eighty dollars to fill my gas tank. I never have any spare change and even if I did, I can’t afford to give it away. I need gas.”
This may sound bad to some people, but we come across so many people asking for money that we eventually become desensitized. That gentleman didn’t look like a homeless person; you know the kind, with dirty clothes, talking to himself, challenging an invisible opponent to a fight, and so on. He looked sober enough and sane enough that he should’ve been looking for a job; not asking for handouts.
In the good old days, I used to give a dollar here, two dollars there. But, as the onslaught of homeless people increased, it became harder and harder to give money to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Eventually, it became difficult to even tell who really deserved it, and who was just doing it as a hobby.
Once I saw two ladies, in a nice car, who parked out of sight and came out holding cardboards with handwritten signs, asking for money. You know the “type”: they’re usually standing at a busy intersection with a sign that says, “Hungary. Please help.” I was amazed at the sheer audacity. Another time I was standing in line at the bank and saw two homeless persons, whom I used to see on the intersection near my work, waiting in line to deposit money. One was explaining to the other the different accounts that the bank was offering to its customers.
It hit me then that being homeless for these people is not a tragedy, but a lifestyle. They are not homeless, as in having no place to stay, but are homeless, as in having a job. They make money, just like regular workers. If in an hour, they can have a few people give them money, they make the equivalent of minimum wage that normal workers make, but without having to do any actual work.
These days I dread going to a gas station, a liquor store, or to places like Walgreens. There are so many “homeless” people waiting for you to make an eye contact so they can then pounce on you. My favorite are the ones carrying a gas can, pretending that they happen to run out of gas at a GAS STATION, and need help. I mean, honestly!
I enjoy my morning commute when all the homeless people come out of the woodworks and Florida Avenue becomes full of hustle and bustle, as they search for coffee and donuts. There is so much life, so many stories, and so much adventure moving around with shopping carts full of their worldly possessions. I was really impressed with one in particular, who was using a Home Depot cart, the one that is used to carry sheets of wood; he had it covered on the sides with blankets and was able to lie down in the center, using it as a bed at night. Ooh, how resourceful!
Then there are the ones that travel in pairs. Usually the girl is on a skateboard, a little clumsy because she just started learning how to skate, and the guy is on a bicycle, which was meant for a child but somehow this gentleman with face full of tattoos ended up having to ride. Girl is always wearing shorts and really tight fitting shirt and the guy with a T-shirt, baggy shorts, and a backpack. Both riding around, passing the time away.
I feel sorry the most for the girls that don’t have someone to ride with, so they spend time walking up and down Florida Avenue all by themselves, having nowhere in particular to go, because, you know, they are homeless. They are usually dressed in a very provocative way, as if they are going to a nightclub, but just walking across the length of, again, Florida Avenue. They are not even asking for anything. Instead, if I happen to make an eye contact by mistake, they actually point to themselves and ask me instead if I want something from them. I have to raise both hands to say no, because, you never know when my wife would happen to be passing by and I would have to say goodbye to this world.
I do have some touching moments when I feel moved and find myself compelled to do some good deed. Like the day, in the parking lot of Walgreens at the corner of Lyon, and you guessed it, Florida, a young, fully tattooed man, out of breath simply due to walking, stopped by my car and tried to ask for something, while gasping for air. I didn’t understand him at first, but he finally managed to say it properly: “Sorry, heroin. It is affecting my breathing. Can you spare some change?” I gave that man five dollars. Heroin is expensive and five dollars probably weren’t enough, but they would go a long way towards helping him. I felt good, for once.
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