On Homeless

Written by Mike Parish, Illustrated by Dan Tarnowski
On Homeless

Homeless. Penniless. Doomed.

Not many consider living on the street a viable option in today’s society. It’s never, “Go to school, grow up and go homeless.” We’re taught that to be homeless is to be the lowest of the low, to be a failure. It means smelling bad and having diseases and is inevitably equal to death.

When I see a homeless person, I cannot look away. I find people who live on the street to be some of the most intriguing and genuine individuals one can come across. Their lives take place out in the open, in public, for all to see. Even inside shopping carts overflowing with plastic bags of all shapes and colors, they’ve got nothing they can possibly hide.

I like to think that I am different because my life takes place in private, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a better person. All it means is that most people cannot see where I am cracked and starting to fall apart. Most people cannot see what makes me who I am or how I hold myself together.

When people go out into the world, depending on the clothing worn or the attitudes portrayed, everybody becomes an actor. They send out ambassadors, ideas of themselves they want to test out or that they want you to meet. Many people are so worried about public approval, myself included, that they’ll go to great lengths to maintain their privacy, even if it means becoming something they’re not.

Homelessness is a frightening prospect and it is a reality more and more people are facing as economic down times strike. But going homeless in a city would not be so bad; there are plenty of resources and food and support available for those in need. Like jail, the thing to worry about would be other homeless people.

Other than that, life would be like backpacking indefinitely; the hardest part would be finding a place to sleep each night. One would have all the time in the world to do what they wanted. They could hang in the library and read books all day or lie in the sun in the park and consider the meaning of life. When they got hungry, they could stop in at a shelter or find a mobile meal van or provide some sort of entertainment for money.

Many people who live on the street have an act or skill. Busking, (singing or entertaining in public), is not a bad way to make cash; depending on the location, one could pull in at least enough for the day’s meals. And the amount of practice that a busker accrues only makes them better at what they do. I’ve met people who say they are able to pay rent in this manner, and though it’s a lot of hard work each day, they seem to be some of the most fulfilled individuals I’ve known.

But there is a lot of anger associated with people who live on the street. The homeless themselves seem to be an angry, unapproachable lot, ready to snap at a passerby if looked at in the wrong way.

In return, society feels angry toward the homeless. Though some people want to help out as much as they physically and emotionally can, others thrive on making the situation more degrading. The homeless are spit on, cursed at or even provoked into fighting. It’s strange that some choose to attack such a helpless bunch. They probably see some reflection of themselves in the homeless that they feel the urge to destroy.

Without the way society is set-up, the homeless could not exist. Some seem to be in their own world, living in their own reality, talking to themselves as if there wasn’t another soul around. This is probably a deciding factor with some who become homeless: so disconnected with everyday aspects of life, they just give up trying to make it work completely.

Sometimes, I want to make New York my playground. Live on its streets, sleep in its parks, find the safe places to stay and the safe places to feed. There’s a lot to be learned from going homeless. Certain facets of homeless life, living simply, shedding off the conventions of society, doing what one wants with each day, appeal to me.

The homeless seem to have problems and homelessness seems to be a way of sorting those problems out. It seems like such a basic human need, that everyone should have a home, a place to go back to and feel comfortable and be alone, and it’s highly confusing why everyone does not. If I were homeless, I’d appreciate life a lot more. In having nothing, I feel like I’d be one step closer to having everything.

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