Homeless is More than a Problem, It is a Girl

Detail from a painting by M.R. Robinson

Last night, as I cleaned the debris from the kitchen, I more or less listened to a talk show about local homelessness. Like waves on the beach, it flowed in and out of my awareness.  A guest spoke about trying to help the homeless. I cleared the piles of crispy plump vegi-tacos and wrapped them for snacks. Michael Moor called and talked about the decaying cars in his neighborhood—I nodded and scraped the plates into compost–made a note to myself, “It’s so full, I’ve got to take it out.” Someone talked about aggressive panhandlers. Flash to an old lady attacking me with a shopping cart while I asked my son to put away his toys. A passionate woman demanded why?  Why in a show about the homeless wasn’t there one homeless person to speak to their point of view. I nodded. I wiped the counter.

The voices for the homeless and the homed plucked at me then dropped away as I tucked my house to bed.

Awake, this morning, I slipped from under a thick comforter  and pulled the cozy warmth of my house around me like a shawl.  Opening the  cupboards and the refrigerator and finding a bounty of melonberrybreadbuttereggmilkojcheesetomato, after slicing and toasting and frying, after setting white plates with red and gold and white, I sent my husband and son off to their day –clean clothes, homepacked lunch. Curled in a soft chair, I performed the morning ritual of opening the computer.

The cold bluewhite screen opened to another piece about how we treat our homeless, of how we should deal with our unhoused.

Closing my eyes, I thought of clicking to another blog because…What I do is never enough and always too much–enabler or oppressor–any action leads to shame.

And non action buries me in more.

Over a year ago I wrote about a girl I met.  In the dark hours when the house is still and I stretch clean feet across clean sheets and tangle with my sins, her eyes meet mine and I look away.

Here is what I saw and did and was:

They fade into the background of our lives. Each, someone’s lost child, even the old men with their beer breath and ragged chins, even the zombie crews who defecate on sidewalks, in alley ways, and behind the driftwood on the beach. “So do we just keep ignoring this problem that won’t go away?”

I stepped out of Anglin’s today and almost didn’t notice her but she stopped me–not the man in front or the couple behind–but me.

Clutching a leather rope tied to the ratty collar of a silky Australian Shepherd and carrying a heavy backpack with a blanket roll, her thin body moved with the easy swing of someone used to carrying weight but she didn’t look older than 16 even with her silver nose ring.  “Please, is there a gas station soon?” She gestured South, ahead of her down Broadway, a street that unsuccessfully tries to pretend it isn’t Hwy 101 for the 2 miles through Eureka.

She looked at me with dark eyes through a fringe of tangled hair. “No, not for quite a ways–at least a half a mile,” I smiled, “Back that way, North, is your closest Service station,” and turned to get into my car.  She arched her neck away so I wouldn’t see the tears escape down the ladders of her lashes.  I slid into my car–two ships passing.

My head as heavy as my heart, my neck bent like grass in the rain. With my head against the steering wheel, I watched from the corner of my eye as she sank against the wall of a building, huddled away from the sidewalk.  Not understanding her sadness but needing to do something, her dog put his paws on her shoulders and lapped up the drops spilling from her eyes.  Gently she pushed him away and made him settle down.

I came to stand beside her. I didn’t want to get sucked into this morass but I came to stand beside her.  “Are you..” but by the time I finished with “okay?”  I had sunk down in the dirt between the buildings, the vortex of her wet eyes had pulled me into her world.

At first, she waved me away, trying to hide her tears, but when I touched her arm, she told me, “I’m going to be okay.  I’m just upset ’cause this guy I knew, he just hung himself, hung himself, and he was all.. and I saw him.  He was just dead and why? I mean like everybody knew him. He just hung himself, why?” Her words tangled with her sobs, muffling them and the traffic noise and the snuffling of her dog straining to burrow his nose into her neck made all but the gist of her story disappear between her heart and mine.

I knelt there through the rain of her tears.  No, there was nothing I could do, she said.  She’d be all right. Below the ragged skirt she wore, The dog pressed his shiny silver coat against her brown legs streaked with grayish grime. When her tears slowed a little, I slipped back to the car to peel a ten and a five from my wallet and tuck them into her hand.  “Call your Mom,” I said little knowing if her mom might be the one she needed to run from.  “Tell her you’re okay.”

She said she’d be alright so I left her to drive South.

I needed to get gas.

From the Chevron.

On Broadway.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Dedicated to all the homeless, sad, crazy people that we as a society and as individuals don’t know how to deal with.  Thanks to Richard Marks who gave me the courage to tell a tale I’m not very proud of.  See here for a local blog who spoke with several homeless people.

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9 comments

  • As always, your writing is beautiful, Kym. This same story made me cry the last time, too…

  • It’s different when you get drawn into the world of homelessness. You know me. I’m pretty selfish and self-involved, but I’ve been pulled into the vortex of financial hardship and responded. Like you, I was reluctant.
    We can only do our part, Kym.

  • It’s different when you get drawn into the world of homelessness. You know me. I’m pretty selfish and self-involved, but I’ve been pulled into the vortex of financial hardship and responded. Like you, I was reluctant.
    We can only do our part, Kym.

  • What I do is never enough and always too much–enabler or oppressor–any action leads to shame. … That really resonates with me, Kym. So true.

  • What I do is never enough and always too much–enabler or oppressor–any action leads to shame. … That really resonates with me, Kym. So true.

  • Thanks Kym,

    I think being homeless is, often, a symptom of the US’s version of capitalism and not the ‘problem.’

  • Thanks Kym,

    I think being homeless is, often, a symptom of the US’s version of capitalism and not the ‘problem.’

  • Thanks for the link to River’s Wind: Homeless in Arcata. Good blog.

    Your post was a thoughtful read. I particularly like your intimate writing style. The subject is one I’ve wrestled with for decades.
    When I got out of the Army in March of 1971 I “hit the highway” and lived a homeless existense for nearly two years. My lifestyle took me across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. No roots. No answers to the questions in my heart. Because of my short term memory from PTSD I only recall bits and pieces of that lonely trek.

    My heart strings still pull hard when I see homeless people and sometimes I help them out. But not always. Then there’s a logical part of me that realizes some people prefer to lead a life without a home or roots to hold them down. been there and done that.

  • Thanks for the link to River’s Wind: Homeless in Arcata. Good blog.

    Your post was a thoughtful read. I particularly like your intimate writing style. The subject is one I’ve wrestled with for decades.
    When I got out of the Army in March of 1971 I “hit the highway” and lived a homeless existense for nearly two years. My lifestyle took me across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. No roots. No answers to the questions in my heart. Because of my short term memory from PTSD I only recall bits and pieces of that lonely trek.

    My heart strings still pull hard when I see homeless people and sometimes I help them out. But not always. Then there’s a logical part of me that realizes some people prefer to lead a life without a home or roots to hold them down. been there and done that.

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