I live in a densely populated city that sees warm weather pretty much year-round. As one would expect, if you take those two factors and throw in increasingly unaffordable housing, you’ve got yourself quite the homeless problem. Largely represented within this demographic are war veterans and/or people with disabilities.
Most San Diegans, including myself, recognize not only the humanitarian but environmental and economic impacts this has on our society, and in doing so fully support initiatives to help people within that bracket of need reach a level of self-sufficiency.
On a macro scale, it makes sense. Implementing programs to promote productivity and integration into mainstream society theoretically results in more taxpayers which in turn leads to a more even distribution of the economic burden. Everybody wins.
Individually, however, the anecdotal evidence I have presents a challenge. I like to consider myself a relatively socially conscious person. I give the benefit of the doubt. I genuinely want to root for these guys. But regardless of the circumstances, some homeless people are fucking assholes.
My first notable encounter occurred at 8:00 a.m. on a Monday two years ago. There I was, a shell of myself, dragging my feet outside of my apartment for the first time in 30 hours. Leah, the woman who took up residency outside my apartment window, was sitting in her usual spot. She and I had exchanged minimal pleasantries in the past. She had a ritual of collecting empty beer cans left in the apartment complex’s courtyard and occasionally bumming cigarettes off of my neighbors. We coexisted. But today was different.
“Would it kill you to smile?” She hissed at me as I walked past. Considering I was about to begin another brutal week at my entry level job at whatever soul vacuum currently happened to drop a modest deposit into my even more modest bank account on a bi-weekly basis, of course it would kill me to smile.
Not only that, but I had my apartment robbed that Saturday night. Here I was, phoneless, computerless, purseless, and pushing my parents’ Subaru as my car got re-keyed because the slime turds copped my car keys too. So, yeah. You can imagine why I wouldn’t be inclined to be bouncing around grinning and greeting everyone like Mickey Mouse at fucking Disneyland with my Scaries at record highs.
I kept walking in a determined effort to mind my own business, but this apparently did not satisfy her. Her gravelly voice erupted at me once again, “Y’all are a bunch of fuckin’ CUNTS! I hope you die of Ebola!”
The “Y’all” referred to my neighbors and myself, who happened to live in the apartment complex invading her space, and in the summer of 2014, her reference to Ebola was as topical as it was abrasive.
I continued on in silence, shocked, embarrassed, and even more downtrodden than I had been when I stepped out of my apartment door that morning. While it wasn’t the first encounter with a presumably mind-altered individual of the transient lifestyle and certainly would not be the last, it put me in a state of rage I had not felt for a long time.
A couple of months later, I was at the corner store by my apartment. A sandy-haired gentleman walked in the door. He was probably in his mid-40s and looked like a surfer dude. Not outwardly homeless-looking. He made his way over to the beer case where I was standing and mumbled something. I, thinking he was talking to me as we were the only ones in the store, said “Pardon?” He leaned in toward me and said in a low, calm voice: “You ever fucking challenge me, bitch, I’ll fucking kill you.”
Startled into near paralysis, I managed to stammer out “S-sorry… I wasn’t…” before he staggered out of the shop and onto the sidewalk to yell something at a passing car. I breathed for the first time in what felt like two minutes, bought two more bottles of wine than I had initially planned, and repeatedly whispered “what the fuck” to myself on the walk home.
Recently, I was on a routine coffee run with several coworkers. A woman went into the coffee shop to ask patrons for money and was shortly asked to leave by the reluctant barista. My coworkers and I were standing outside near the door. Upon exit, the woman looked at my coworker with a seething hatred in her eyes and said bluntly, “I hate Martin Luther King.”
My coworker who, apart from his complexion, bears no resemblance to Dr. King calmly smiled at her and said “Okay thanks, I’ll pass on the message.” I apparently had not learned my lesson from my previous run-ins and sat there once again with my mouth agape in disbelief. She walked back over to her shopping cart without taking her eyes off of him, and flipped him the double-bird. He laughed and walked away.
These encounters remind me of some important things. Everyone you meet is fighting an invisible battle. That quote may be frequently reposted on Tumblr but that does not render it false.
I have a hard time believing the man in the convenience store actually viewed me as a legitimate threat. Maybe if I had tried doing my own eyeliner, but that wasn’t it. Something else was going down in his mind unbeknownst to the rest of us. Whatever it was, provoking him would help no one. It hardly comes as a surprise when an individual belonging to one of the most marginalized and generalized groups of people in turn generalizes others.
Of course homelessness is a delicate issue that should be approached with thought and compassion. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t rude, aggressive, racist assholes out there who also happen to be homeless. And when it comes to picking my battles, I will never let my social conscience prevent me from telling an unflattering story about an asshole. Consider that particular socioeconomic barrier shattered. .