Suppose You Slept Under a Bridge Last Night…

Just this past year, I’ve seen an almost uncountable number of tweets, blogposts, and other status updates on various social media urging people to give to animal shelters, and to adopt cats and dogs that would be otherwise doomed.  The general public expectation is that many will respond to this outcry.  Also, we are advised not to feed stray animals unless we intend to continue it and take responsibility for them.  Yet when it comes to human beings in dire circumstance, it is not thinkable that when the service ends around noon that all those with the wherewithal to do so will go find someone in need to join them at their table. But here is a thought:

Last year the Gross National Income of the United States of America approached 16 trillion dollars.  One half of one percent (a negligible tax perhaps?) would be about 80 billion dollars.  That would be about $100,000.00 a year per homeless person to address needs for psychiatric clinics, shelters, education and job training.  Maybe some amount less than that would go a long way towards helping those who can be helped.  Then the people need to be honest with themselves about what they intend to do with those who cannot be, or refuse to be helped.  Right now, we either let them die on the streets, or put them in prisons where they are fed and maintained at public expense anyway.  Others are rounded up occasionally, washed off, given a meal and a shirt, advised to take their medication (which they do not know how to do, and couldn’t afford if they did) regularly, and put back out on the street.

Let’s suppose you slept under an overpass last night.  You have vague thoughts of family somewhere, but you don’t know where that somewhere is.  You haven’t had a bath in three or four months other than getting caught in the rain.  You haven’t seen a doctor or dentist in over 10 years–you don’t remember for sure how long.  Last year you stayed at a temporary shelter for a while, but it was overcrowded, and you were afraid of some of the others staying there.  The last day you were there, they had some soup, but not enough to go around, so you left hoping to go somewhere and find something to eat.

You’re pretty sure the police are looking for you on account of that vending machine you broke into out of desperation three weeks ago.  You remember frantically grabbing what you could carry including almost twelve dollars worth of change, and you got by on it for a couple of days or so.  In your mind, you believe when they do catch you, they will torture you and possibly kill you.  You are often out of touch with reality other than with your own hunger, pain, sickness, and general discomfort.

Your shoes don’t fit, don’t match each other, and the soles are worn through exposing your skin.  It’s winter and you have some rags to wrap up in that you got out of a dumpster.  You eat out of dumpsters, too when you can find anything.  You haven’t eaten in a day or so, and the last meal you had at a table is only a vague memory.  You don’t dare build a fire to keep warm for fear someone will hurt you if you get caught doing that.  Sometimes you do it anyway.  The person beside you warming up to the fire who refused to help you you build it does not exist, but you wouldn’t be convinced of it.

On a clear day, you might interview for a job if you’re allowed to remain inside any business long enough to do that, but in your current condition, no one will seriously consider hiring you at all.  When you’re not frantically trying to find something to eat or drink, you sleep a lot, or try to.  And when you do, your dreams are full of monsters just as your waking hours are.  You are often delusional, but you are not at all aware that some of the things you think you see, hear, and even touch are not really there.

It rained yesterday, so you got to drink some water without mud in it out of a hubcap.  So, you huddle under a bridge.  You regularly feel sick, and afraid.  You’re pretty certain other people hate you, and that they don’t care if you die.  Two blocks down the road, you can hear people singing “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”.  You tried to join them a couple of months ago, but you were asked to leave.  You’ve been told often that you stink.  So, if someone gave you a twenty dollar bill, would you get drunk?  Might you take some substance that would make you feel numb for just a little while?  Maybe you would, and not really care that much if it was illegal, or even if it kills you.  If you were a puppy, somebody might take you home with them. But You’re not a puppy.  As things are, your chances of that happening are not very good.  Could that story be similar to one experienced by a quarter of a million people every year right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

But this is just here in America.  In so many other places here on earth, the situation might be much worse.  Maybe you’re absolutely certain this could never be you.  And maybe you really don’t care about whether it is happening to others.  It is your prerogative to feel that way.  But if you are so disposed to consciously not care, please don’t waste your time trying to tell me about your personal relationship with a loving God, because I will not believe you’re telling me the truth.  You can talk to me about your rights and what you feel you’re entitled to, and you can even tell me you believe the homeless are entitled to nothing.  Come Christmas time, put your annual dollar in the bucket for The Salvation Army, and sing your songs of goodwill, but don’t expect me to applaud.


9 responses to this post.

  1. Hello Van and thank you for this graphic and thought provoking post. It is scary how uncaring we are to our fellow man. It says a lot about us. We say: there by the grace of G.d go you or I, not fully realising the meaning of those words.
    It is not hard to give a helping hand. Better still a hand that has something in it, a sandwich, bottle of fresh water, a warm jersey. Be the person who does something.


  2. Reblogged this on Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit and commented:
    Honest Truth


  3. Honest unvarnished non-sugar coated truth! Very graphic portrayal from the viewpoint of the homeless person. So true that many times animals are better treated than humans. Many of the homeless are Veterans which makes the whole situation even sadder. Since homelessness is so pervasive especially in New York City where I live many times one becomes indifferent or exhibits coldness to the tattered ragged beings with horrendous smells emanating from their persons while on a crowded subway going to and from work or home. Even if I give them a dollar or small change I wonder if that will make any difference in their meager lives. I know another reason folks are tight fisted is that so many con artists permeate the city. As for those who are seriously mentally ill, to be honest they scare me. Unfortunately since New York does not or cannot hospitalized some of the violent mentally ill several innocent people have been thrown on the subway tracks and killed by oncoming trains. It will take a joint effort of government, churches/clergy and the medical system to get these unfortunate people the help they need. As a Veteran I’m disgusted with the Federal Government and the Veterans Administration which does not do enough to help homeless and/or mentally ill vets. Parades are not enough. There needs to be really outreach to help those who served our country and find themselves abandoned in their time of need. Thanks Van!


  4. Posted by Marlene Humberd on August 28, 2013 at 2:27 am

    One of my former students recently posted on FB about moving a young homeless couple into her home , helping them find jobs, and finding them a place to live . She didn’t post it to get praise from others( this girl would NEVER do that ) , but to try to get other friends to help in her community . Her “friends ” criticized her for doing what she did, and most said they would never even talk to a homeless person . Needless to say , Michelle was crushed that her “friends ” weren’t at all who she thought they were .~ I’m proud of Michelle .:-) My student taught me a valuable lesson .A lesson that I am working on every day . And I thank you , Van , for your caring and concern . I hope someone reading your blog post will come to the realization that we are one human race and that we have to help each other in order to survive .


  5. Posted by little d on August 28, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    Good Post VT. This message hits everyone reading it with a gut punch that can’t be sidestepped. Everyone reading this post realizes the escape corridors are closed, and all those poor souls that you’ve walked and driven by start reappearing from that tiny hidden spot of memory that you were sure had been deleted.

    Assuredly, when looking away from that which is unpleasant, justification for doing so is easily accomplished by the known and unknown liabilities of becoming involved. Fear plays a large part in turning away what may have been a natural response to help someone. The poor person character has been fraudulently portrayed too, thus helping to close the door in ones mind whether or not to be of assistance.

    One of my pet saying is ” The Bottom is to Low ” and I say that not on impulse, but after close examination of our Society. For if a Society tolerates a ” Hard Bottom ” like we presently do, the product of such a bottom is self illustrated by our own observations of crime, sickness, and poverty. And in my opinion, Society should not be the least surprised at what horrors results from such a hard bottom, and honestly allot of folks are terribly mistaken in their beliefs of why or how someone could end up in this condition too.

    I understand your post is squared around those who imagine themselves as being team members on the good squad. And I agree that those who sing it the loudest are usually the ones quickest to turn a eye away from the music, but we’ve all got a card in this hand, and thanks to your crystal messages found in this post, a self booting memory card that’s indicting us all.

    thanks again VT,

    little d


  6. A few months ago, on a beer-run, I had a chap with a fellow hanging outside the store. Articulate friendly chap who told me about the police running him off from his spot in a drainage ditch. We had started talking because he wanted to know if there was a squad car in the parking lot across the street. I don’t know if me stopping to chat with him meant anything to him, but it perked me up as I am been feeling rather lonely that night, and it was nice to just talk.


  7. Thank you very much for this post. This is the life my friends live, sometimes sleeping behind dumpsters, sometimes on benches until they get rousted by police or worse, get beaten and set on fire. Some are afraid of the shelters. From the comments I’ve received, England and Australia are far ahead of North America when it comes to aiding the homeless.



    • Hey Dennis, thank you for your comment. And a big “thank you” to all the others who’ve commented here offering such clear support to the idea that there is a value in caring and kindness. Dennis, since you said:

      “This is the life my friends live…”,

      then you are likely to understand the problem better than most. The character in my story is a composite of some people I’ve met, or known about. Some were only from a brief encounter, and others that I knew rather well. I cannot do miracles, but I can do some things. A friend of mine spoke at a meeting once. He told the story of a multitude of people being fed by a man from Nazareth. If we focus just on the magic trick of feeding thousands with a few loaves and a few fish, there is no lesson I can learn as far as what I’m to do except wish for magic tricks. But the lesson was clear when I heard the man tell it. He said:

      “If you share what you have, it will probably be enough.”


  8. Posted by Bonnie Stewart on August 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    I have read and re-read this and have been trying to think of something profound to say. I haven’t come up with anything, but it has made me think of how I will do things and live my life going forward. Thank you, Van.


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