In recent weeks, I have felt something new in connection to the crisis of homelessness all around me: a hardening of the heart toward some homeless people, a draining away of sympathy for their plight, a creeping cynicism about the efforts to help them.
Thank you so much for this comment Wade. What a story. I had forgotten all about Ironweed. I read it years ago and now need to read it again. Thanks for reading and the support.
I’ve been following your blog almost daily since you began this journey. I feel more than a little voyeuristic because you are so honest and transparent that I feel I know you as a person, yet haven’t met you. I suppose you could take that as a complement or taken back by it, but I say it to give some credibility to my insight that you are a caring, nonjudgmental human and as such, are doing your damned best to make the world a better place.
I traveled to South America in my early twenties with my alcoholic girlfriend from Columbia to Bolivia and having grown up in SW Idaho, was first exposed to real poverty there, kids on the streets begging and scratching on the windows of cafes to get our attention. I made friends with a chiclets and shoeshine boy in Peru who spoke Spanish, English, German, Portuguese, and a bit of French. I told him how exceptional he was being able to speak 5 languages! I asked what he wanted to do with this gift of language, he responded very enthusiastically that he hoped to shine more shoes and have a real stand in the square! That would be his greatest achievement! He would be wealthy and maybe have a helper or two. I told him he should go to school and become a doctor or whatever, to really use his amazing mind. He said he would love that but it just wasn’t a possibility for him. That kid broke my heart because there was really nothing more than making his day with big tips and encouraging words that I could do for the week or so that I knew him. Almost 50 years later, I still wonder what became of him. He gave me more than anyone else up to that point in my life. I vowed that on returning to the U$A, I would take full advantage of what I was lucky enough to have, in a weird way to honor him. Many of the kids I met on the streets were pretty mean and could be dangerous and scary, survivalists… I had my romantically inclined heart hardened pretty quickly. That unfortunately has endured to this day.
All this to say that we never know who we can touch in a positive way or who touches us in a positive way. We just do our best on a daily basis.
I read a book a few years ago, Ironweed, that was an unromantic read about homelessness and addiction, yet didn’t demonize it either. The characters didn’t seem to want to change, even though they had terrible lives (in my view). All the moral and ethical issues concerning the homeless are irrelevant in my view. Addition, mental illness, environmental degradation, on and on… There is only one issue really, homes. Maybe not a home I would want to live in, but a room that is affordable (or free) without any more strings attached.
I just came back from Ecuador, my first visit after 50 years. You know what I didn’t see, but expected to see? Homelessness. Was it because of brutal police actions? Doesn’t appear so, they nationalized the petrochemical industry, instituted national health care, I saw poor men pushing carts with brooms on the street with official vests cleaning the streets, other poor boys whose job it was, was to direct people to open parking spaces on the streets. I’m sure there are many other such programs because the homeless, hopeless situation did not appear to exist there anymore. It was striking to see the change, both here and there.
Maybe an in-depth study of Ecuador would prove me wrong in my observations, or they may be a roadmap for this country.
Wether you continue with this project or not, know that I for one have been along for the ride, as I sit here in my little office looking over the mighty Columbia River in a town I started my adult journey after escaping Idaho 50 years ago.