I have interviewed homeless men in Costa Mesa and Tustin. I have worked in a shelter in Evanston, Illinois sorting through endless donations and organizing cans and ladling food and cleaning dishes. And I have dirtied those same dishes eating with homeless men and women, and not cared that I am sharing their food because by the next morning there will be so much left over that what isn’t stolen will be thrown away. There are enough dependable cooks in the city and enough overloaded lists of volunteers that there will be more food tomorrow. I have spent months walking cold Chicago streets with a tape recorder and notepad trying to fulfill a thesis I already knew to be true and, truth be told, don’t think my personal insight will do much to improve.
This past Christmas was a time of homelessness. Los Angeles is one of the largest cities in the world and its homeless population is proportionate to that. More so, in fact. This past weekend I was in San Francisco and I saw more homeless there – and younger homeless there – than I have ever seen in one place, save Los Angeles Street.
When I was only a little bit younger I wanted to do something about what I’ve written above. I was appalled that the majority of men and nearly all of the women I met were not crazy. Most of them were usually on the losing side of a divorce, the helpless side of an illness, or made too many careless decisions, trapped in bad luck, bad circumstance – and sometimes they were just nasty people. What I forget, and I can only speak for myself, is that there are as many different kinds of folks living on the street as there are folks crossing the street. None of them are saints and some of them are very dangerous. But none of them deserve it.
A dollar really does make a difference. Even less than that even more than you might think. It is a bad time for a lot of people and nobody can tell you what to do with your money. But if you’ve ever wondered how much one choice can have an effect, the decision to make one in a cup or outstretched palm will mean more than I hope you can ever imagine.
Never endanger yourself to do so, of course. But if you have the time, after all: ’tis the season.