Saturday, December 12, 2009


Specifically, hardcore, chronic homelessness.

After having read that, I thought about homeless people for a while. Then, I decided that at the first opportunity I would talk to one. So I did.

People seem to have an instinct about me. I was sitting in the bus station waiting for an intercity bus, and he walked in. Tall man. Not stringy but not too meaty. Scruffy as you'd expect. The kind of hands that get called 'ham.' He made a beeline for me.

I tried to talk to him for a bit. According to plan, when he asked for money I obliged, in an attempt to gain goodwill. Fifty cents.

It was like speaking to a robot, a wind-up thing that reacted almost at random to my queries...unless the subject was money. His fuzzy incoherence was suddenly pierced by the subject; he talked almost like a normal. And my plan worked; he felt the need to continue the exchange while hugging me. I didn't object. He clearly didn't know any better.

But not with me. I was unable to get him to attend to me at all except when he decided to call me a 'good guy' or something. Instead he tried to panhandle the rest of the room. Now it was more like talking to a television.

I know he was sober. They only panhandle when sober, because the point is to get drunk, and they stop for a while when they reach their goal, if for no other reason than that they're busy passing out.

I've met people who had more mental cohesion when stoned out of their minds than this man was when stone cold sober. If it wasn't about money, he couldn't focus. In any real sense, he didn't have a human mind anymore.

The drink - or whatever it was that put him on the street - had drained his soul. He was already dead in every meaningful way.

I couldn't help wondering, where was this man's family? What tragedy befell him that he's now living on the street now? Why hasn't anyone just scooped him and up and kept him away from the booze? What happened to his parents? Does he have children? Siblings? What do they think of him?

I tried asking him.

These people are not really people anymore. The reason we generally don't interfere with the lives of other adults is that they're responsible for their actions, and since we don't want our responsibility taken from us, we don't take it from others. However, the chronically homeless are not responsible anymore. They're not on the street by choice, or because they're lazy.

"We also believe that the distribution of social benefits should not be arbitrary."

They're on the street because they're dead inside. That's why treating them for efficiency isn't arbitrary. The only ways to stop these people from acting like beasts, from harming themselves, from costing our social services millions of dollars, is to kill them or take away their 'freedom.' Institutionalize the chronically homeless.

Go on, try it yourself. Talk to a bum.


Anonymous said...

From a behavioristic perspective we are all 'dead' my friend, motivated by our 'lust' and 'pain' centers.

It strikes me that you fit that description eminently well in this piece.

You are defined by your dreams and choices, and you have no guarantee that you won't be the next guy staring unseeingly into the distance.

Better be careful with what you wish.


Alrenous said...

To use your dead and my dead in the same sentence would be an equivocation.

You're of course welcome to your philosophy, but it happens to be incompatible with mine.