Judging a homeless person's story in San Francisco...
"Hey, do you want an orange?" I ask.
She's sitting on a street corner with a backpack.
Her face is marked up with whiskered scars of cosmetic or self mutilation origin. Maybe a bit of both. She's pretty. One of the compartments on her bag is unzipped, and I see a bottle of sparkling nail polish.
She's looks up from her phone. "Yes, please. Thank you."
A straight-laced women passes by. Grey suit, hair up in a tight pony tail.
"She's begging for change while she's tweeting from her smartphone" she says, loudly.
With as much scorn and contempt as she could bear to part with.
As the woman walks away, the girl blurts out, quietly, "I just left my abuser."
I pause. "I'm sorry that woman said that to you," I say as I hand her an orange.
I watched her. The comment had stung. Because, you know, that's just what you need when you're down and out- judgment.
"People don't seem to understand that a phone costs less than rent" she says. "And I just left the guy that was abusing me."
"Yeah," I nod in agreement.
"This phone cost me $40. And you need a phone to get a job."
And everything else in our capitalistic mess.
I would rather part with my home, with my car, and my coat than my phone. It's my connection to everything.
$40. You know how much a month of rent costs in SF? $40 is one night in a hostel, at best.
A phone will pull up the addresses of nearby homeless shelters. You can call the people that matter to you even if they are too far away to help. You can become a task rabbit with a working smartphone.
"You know you can't enter a homeless shelter before you get TB clearance."
"I didn't know that," I reply.
"Yeah, I've been on the street a couple days. But I got my clearance today, so I can go there tomorrow."
It's such a familiar story.... lose a job, move in with your boyfriend. Well, that doesn't work out so well for everyone.
"Look, don't pay attention to her." I say. "People like that... they are just unhappy. They feel like they have to live their lives according to a certain set of rules. They are angry at anyone who seems to live outside of their limits of what's acceptable."
"I need my phone to get the rest of my things...," she rambled. Her shoulders tensed up, defensively.
"Look, let it go. She's just angry with her own life. I'm sorry she said that to you. Try not to think about it."
There are some people who feel contempt for homeless people. The worst ones are those who think that homelessness is some sort of holiday.
People are on the streets due to mental illness, bad decisions, depression, despair and sometimes just bad luck. Sometimes to escape their broken families.
If your idea of fun is hanging out with your own anxiety on a street corner, hoping someone will throw you a few bucks -- I'm sorry.
I'd rather work on something I care about. But that's a privilege.
Have you ever asked a stranger for something as basic as food or shelter? I have. It's the most humiliating and humbling experience you can ever have.
Self-reliance is the backbone of our culture. Begging will squeeze your soul dry of the tiniest drop of pride.
If you lust after that helplessness, I'm sorry.
I'm sorry that your life isn't going the way you want it to be. I'm sorry your boss isn't kind to you. That you don't get enough sleep. That you don't feel free, or fulfilled. I'm sorry that sitting on a street corner appears more relaxing than your current life.
I hope you feel better.