I don’t have a problem with homeless people. I know that any one of us is >that close< to homeless at any time, given the worst of circumstances. I also believe there are some folks who are just trying, as Todd Snider so wisely put it, to get the most they can possibly get for the least they can possibly do. In fact, here’s the song from which that lyric comes:
Now, I’m not saying these guys are con artists, but they certainly want the easy money. And I should point out that I recognize there’s nothing easy about standing on the side of a freeway off-ramp or a busy intersection with a sign reading “Homeless, Broke, Please Help.” or some variation. However, it seems to me that it makes more sense for these men and women to go out and get a fucking job.
Yes, I know jobs are scarce. I know because I had to go out and fucking get one, not all that long ago, after many years working for the same employer. It’s embarrassing to take a huge pay cut just to try to make it. It’s hard. To paraphrase everyone’s favorite fairy tale: life is hard. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
But I see these guys near the store where I work, and what I notice is this: Their clothes are clean, they have smokes and phones. They come in and buy coffee and snacks. I also notice they seem to have an agreement to share the busiest corners. In fact, I often see one guy sitting off to the side of his “usual” spot while a guy I usually see somewhere else apparently fills in for him.
I also notice they leave loads of trash in their wake. They take signs for open houses and other legitimate businesses to make their own, then leave them in the bushes off the side of the road.
Anyhow, I kinda forgot where I was going with all that, other than they all seem pretty organized. I can almost envision a modern-day Fagin somewhere nearby, sending his minions out to cadge money and food from thems what has them. Only instead of orphans, they’re homeless adults.
Then there was the guy I used to see when I worked at my previous job. He was always on the same corner, close to The City. He seemed to be in pretty bad shape, obviously physically disabled, with a face that looked like he’d possibly suffered a stroke at some point, in addition to many years of treating himself badly. He limped back and forth along the cars stopped at the light (good thinking there) and bellowed “Can you HELP me?” at each car, pausing for a moment before moving to the next. He also had a small dry erase board with a carefully lettered description of his needs (PLEASE HELP! no money for rent, food, medicine, anything helps, etc…). I always felt that sign was both innovative and an indication maybe he was better off than he was implying. That, and the cell phone. He, too, left a wake of trash behind. Why do these people care so little for their turf?
Anyhow, fast forward to a few months later. I’ve changed jobs, now working in The Suburbs. My second day or so, I’m behind the counter learning coffee stuff when I hear a familiar voice, greeting each of my coworkers by name. They, in return, greeted him by name. Dave, as he was known there, apparently had more than one corner to work. (Turns out his name was Jeff on the other corner, so who knows what his real name is). Some people said he lived with a rich brother and rode to work in a ‘Benz. I don’t know about that; I saw him getting off the bus one day. In any event, this was Dave/Jeff’s job and he put in long hours in bitter cold and rain. And from what we could see, he was making out pretty well: gift cards (as much as $50!), food, cash and who knows what else. A conservative guesstimate of his income, based on what we saw, was maybe $20 per hour. Tax free. On the other hand, he’s outside for 8 hours a day. I wouldn’t trade with him, I know that much.
Anyhow, I still don’t remember the point of all this. Wait. Yes I do.
The title of this post comes, in its entirety, from a sign I saw one of these guys holding. Well, he was wearing it around his neck, like even holding the sign was just too much work.