HOMELESS LIKE THEM - PART III
The truth is that I wasn't expecting, nor was I seeking, some grand philosophical answer regarding the plight of the homeless - whatever the origin of their current status might have been - after just two weeks living in a similar manner. I feel that my most prevalent emotion was sadness.
Not the sadness we feel from afar as news of a calamity somewhere in the world breaks, those instances that crush our hearts momentarily but are so remote that our connections beyond raw human emotions are negligible, but a palpable sensation because of the intimacy of voluntarily placing my tent so near to someone who has done the same out of necessity.
I can't change the world
But I can change the world in me...
If our foundation and its team members are able to change the world of just one person, it will be because we have all chosen to first make a change ourselves.
My tent location was in an open space under the 90 and west of St. Charles Street that abutted the Warehouse District. There were three or four other campers close to me during the week. I made it a point to chat with all of them. They were hesitant at first and asked me a lot of questions. It was rather obvious that I wasn't there for the same, or similar, reasons.
Whatever insecurities I had about my goofy looks as a teenager and young man have long been outgrown with maturity, so it's ironic that they were now somewhat weaponized against me; I'm not saying that I'm George Clooney or Brad Pitt at the moment (or ever for that matter), only that in relation to my neighbors under the freeway my appearance was off-putting.
Sleeping in my tent was easier than sleeping in my car.
Temperature modulation and ventilation, compared to a vehicle with thinly cracked windows, improved tremendously. I have an extremely thick bed roll, too, that far surpasses my car's backseat. The only worry was theft. I slept with a laptop bag strap around my foot and my clothes for the next day, plus toiletries, water, snack, and my urine bottle. My car was two blocks away, serving as an outpost for supplies, in a safe location. I would enter my tent at sundown, put on headphones, and fall asleep.
I understand why several charities have emphasized socks and shoes as among the greatest needs for the homeless. You're always on your feet and, with the uneven sidewalks and potholes in New Orleans, you're always placing odd-angled impact on your lower extremities. Mine were exhausted because, with no home base, I found myself wandering around a lot and exploring the city just to stay active. I wasn't going to panhandle, and I wasn't going to remain sedentary. And it cost me with the blisters and aches that ensued even with clean socks and reliable footwear.
We need to start realizing as a society that the homeless might not actually be so lazy after all, but just exhausted from having to survive like this. Extrapolate that with the prospect of applying for jobs with no internet access, filthy clothes, and no access to transportation. I cringe when someone says most homeless people are that way by choice.
It's easy to find warmth in the winter - at least during winters like those in cities with milder climates like New Orleans - but it's nearly impossible to find ways to stay cool in the summer when one is homeless. I picked the proper month for this experiment and cannot imagine sleeping in my car during a Louisiana summer, or even spending an extended period in a tent during the same. I have always considered myself hardcore, a Marine veteran and all, but maybe I'm not so tough and resilient after all. I'm humbled.
This laundromat became a bit of an oasis for me. It had air conditioning, clean restrooms, and WiFi. I camped out there on two weekend afternoons and watched many arrive - and depart - with their clothes in aforementioned plastic bags.
I went into this period of my life with advantages that did not allow for a direct comparison to the plights of the truly homeless, but came away with enhanced capabilities for acceptance and understanding.
Are there some people that society's do-gooders and activists will never be able to help? Yes. The reality is that a lot of our fellow human beings are beyond care. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but it's just a fact.
But there are so many others who need help and who want help. Do we turn our backs on them?
I'd like to envision a day when our foundation is able to make a difference, even if it's in the life of just one person or family. We have a long way to go.