Wednesday, March 19, 2008

California is good to the homeless

I feel really bad for the homeless. I really do and I always have. When I was little, we had this graduation from 6th grade and we all had to say where we thought we'd be in 20 years. I wrote that I would win a lifetime achievement award in music (deluded much?) and end homelessness in New York state (awwww). Most of the time, when someone asks me for spare change, I dig something up for them --even as much as $2, which is generous when you consider I could buy a whole bottle of Charles Shaw (oh, how I love thee) with that cash. I realize that on any given day, the only thing separating me from a homeless person is a checking account containing about $86.

And I understand when people say they are just going to use that money to buy drugs or booze. I know this from personal experience because once I offered a beggar my french fries and he turned them down. And another time I bought this woman a piece of pizza and she totally gave a flying fuck about it. So now I know that actually I waste even more money buying food than just giving them cash for drugs and booze. And you know what? I'm fine with that. What do I care? None of my business. They got themselves into this mess and now things suck for them and that's too bad. I hope they've learned their lesson. And so if they need a little money here and there, I'll help when I can. I'd prefer to just give them a hand than have them stealing or whoring themselves out for it.

Yet despite my good intentions and sympathy, I'm finding it harder and harder to give a shit. Sometimes they don't say thank you, and sometimes they yell scary things about the apocalypse at me and call me a sinner. And sometimes they leave their shopping carts on the street in front of my apartment building, making my neighborhood look even worse than it already did. These are all really general statements, but I also have 3 specific encounters with homeless individuals that really pushed my buttons. Here they are, in chronological order:

1. My first apartment in L.A. was in West Hollywood. I, naturally, was in the dodgy end of the community, and occasionally would hear shouting matches in Russian coming from the streets in the wee hours of the morning, or would encounter half-dressed, wigs falling off, tranny hookers making their way home as I embarked on a jog before work. But it wasn't particularly a dangerous place, and so I never felt too weird about walking to the 7-11 a few blocks away at night. So one night I went for a walk to buy some wine. On my way back, I saw a man walking toward me, muttering all kinds of crazy to himself. I tensed up and kept walking. Then he stopped, stood really close to me, and I just froze in place. "It's all your fault!!" he screamed in my face, and then moved his arm in toward my stomach in a fast, thrusting motion that one would use to, oh, stab someone. In that split second I held my breath and thought "this is what stabbing feels like," but then looked down and saw he was unarmed. He had just mine stabbed me. That asshole! So I shrieked and took off in the opposite direction. He chased me for a few steps, and then when I looked back, he had stopped and was walking the other way. I ran the rest of the way home and poured myself a big ol' drink.

2. Two summers ago, I was studying for the LSATs (Why? Well, that's a whole different clusterfuck I'll get into some other time. Maybe tomorrow.) I found that my favorite place to do this was in the library downtown. It was really big, like 5 floors, and not too crowded and had nice big windows to sit by. Also, downtown intrigues me because I never go there and it feels like a whole different world and I like exploring. So I'd always be in good spirits while studying in the library. Feeling busy and productive and, well, studious. This one day I found a good little space in some remote corner of the 4th floor, sat at a study carrel, and began taking a practice test. I get halfway through the analytic reasoning section, when I hear this weird noise coming from across the room. A weird noise and the occasional Ha! Ha! I peer up over the wall of the carrel and don't immediately see anything. Oh well, I have no time for this. Eleven minutes to go on this section. But the noise is distracting. Thap thap thap thap thap. HA! HA! Thap thap thap thap. I stand up this time and look around. Then I spotted him. The homeless man masturbating happily in between two book shelves. I fought off intense nausea and the feeling I might faint, gathered my stuff and ran for the kids section, where it might be loud, but I'll bet the library staff keeps an eye out for such creepy men.

3. A couple months ago, I stopped at Starbucks on my way to work. There are usually roughly 4 homeless people lingering around the front entrance. [Look, I don't live on skid row or anything. L.A. just has lots and lots of homeless people. Approximately 400 per square mile, I'd guess.] After I got my mocha I exited and was walking through the outdoor seating area when a man stepped right in my path, leans his dirty face toward me and asks "can i kiss you?" "NO!" flew out of my mouth, at the top of my lungs, before I could even think about how thoroughly disgusted I was. I stepped to the side and walked away. "GOD!" I screamed back at him for good measure.

So I'm conflicted. I may start calling them bums instead of homeless. I know there are always some bad apples, so I shouldn't start being so negative. And I'd be kidding myself if I said I'm going to stop giving out money. I'll never actually stop caring...

But, WTF?! You know?


surviving myself said...

i never give anything to the bums (i know you're not surprised). Most of the time, like you said, they are just mean about it, so fuck em.

also, one time i had a bum yell at me, "YOU'RE UGLY!!!"

scarred me for life.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I posted under the wrong account. Anyway, I said this:

I think bums and the homeless should be separated out into two different groups.

On weekends, I work at a bar 3 blocks from skid row and there are people who will give you a good conversation (often about spirituality), who are completely cognizant, who I have no problem helping. I once even regularly contributed to a man who picked himself up off the streets, moved in with his mother 5 states away, and got a job. That is meaningful, because he still calls me when he gets the chance.

And then there are bums. These shells of people that once were humans are rude, play the pity game, ramble on and on about some predictable lie of a life struggle story, and are completely thankless. And they are the reason I've become so hardened and leave my wallet inside the bar. They treat you like a paycheck.

I have one simple rule when it comes to beggars: treat me like a human, and I will treat you like a human. And often this sorts them out for me.

Katelin said...

I've definitely been torn about giving money and stuff to homeless people, you just never know.

Inono said...

Are you sure the guy in the library was homeless? Maybe he just has a book fetish.

Felicia said...

My friend and I lived in L.A. about 7 years ago (God that makes me feel old) and she always used to say, "Oh you know, those people that hang out down on Santa Monica Blvd." Then I'd have to correct her and say, "Um, yeah. The homeless people??"

Tia said...

i rarely give money to the homeless, but i've often tried to give them a granola bar or some other snack that i have in my purse, but they usually turn it down.

so now, i only give $$ to the ones who have dogs. cuz i feel sorry for the dogs, even though i know they're probably not benefitting from my money.

but yeah, you're right, california has a ton. san diego probably doesn't have as many as LA but still.

Just another silly girl said...

you know, we have bums here in rochester, in upstate NY (though not anywhere near as many as LA), and I'm perpetually baffled by why they are bums here, where it snows 7-8 months out of the year. I mean, seriously. If you find yourself at a place in life where you must live on the streets, collect enough money for a bus ticket and go live on warm streets, at least.

I worked in a shady part of downtown, and we had a dude there who rode a tricycle. Seriously, an adult-sized tricycle. So one day he pulled up on his trike while we were at the sketchy hot dog stand down the street, and asked us for money. My friend steve said "I'll do you one better, my good man, and buy you a hot dog." And tricycle guy just looked as us blankly, and then tricycled away.

I give you credit for keeping the faith even after being burned by homeless dudes. People who care are few and far between these days.

Peter said...

As someone who regularly stands outside Starbucks and asks women to kiss him, I am offended by this entire post.

That being said, I have a long history of giving $ to bums. And the more creative their approach, the more money I'd give. I remember one youngish dude sitting on a sidewalk with his cute (you know, by bum standards) youngish girlfriend. He asked if I could "spare a dollar for a contraceptive." And I didn't want to be personally responsible for the rising population of bumkids, so I tossed him two bucks.

Lizzie M said...

It's so not a funny issue, but I have to admit, that South Park episode ("Change??!?") is great.

Winter said...

I purchased beer for a homeless kid once.

No one can ever say I didn't do my part.

Hollywood Sucker said...

surviving- holy crap, you just reminded me of what should've been incident #4 on my post: The time a bum pointed at my stomach and said "nice spare tire."

nico- Good point. They definitely fall into 2 categories and that's important to remember. Too bad you can't always tell which of the 2 right away.

katelin- I know, right? It helps when they hold up signs. The signs that say "veteran. need food. god bless" tell me I should help. The ones that say "The fires of hell shall fall upon thee" tell me I should not help.

inono- I'm pretty sure he was both.

felicia- The homeless people AND the badly transitioned trannies.

tia- Yeah, I don't get the ones that have dogs. Particularly when they have them on a leash. Look, if the dog wants to hang with you, cool. But dont force it to stay with you when you have no warm home to offer. Bah!

silly girl- See if Rochester didn't snow so much, there wouldn't be so many SoCal bums. If they're smart they come here. And if they're really smart, they camp out on the beach (and not the valley, where I live, and so I don't get those ones). While we're at work all fucking day, they get to hang at the beach. Doesn't seem fair, does it?

Peter- Aw, I didn't realize you hung out in front of starbucks looking for love. LOL. But I bet you get some kisses because your mouth isn't caked with dirt and crumbs from garbage food.

lizzie- Ok, ok it's not funny when it's a sad family with kids and stuff. Actually, it's not ever funny, per se, more so annoying when it's just these asshole bums I run into.

winter- was the beer properly refrigerated?

Peter said...

"But I bet you get some kisses because your mouth isn't caked with dirt and crumbs from garbage food."

Well, not TOO caked.

JenBun said...

You are a good person. I'm glad to know you. Or, at least, to read your blog and potentially run the risk of someday running into you when I am hanging out in NoHo. (heh, NoHO-- I can never tell if I think it means "There are no hos here" or "No, ho! That's a bad ho!" /end weird rant about your neighborhood's nickname)

I usually give what I can-- money or food-- although I have had homeless people refuse a few things, especially vegetarian fare. Not to be mean, but what happened to beggars can't be choosers?!

I once had a bum masturbate right by my head when I was at the beach. Granted, it was a nude beach, but STILL!

I did NOT give him money.

margottobed said...

its so funny because i grew up in NJ/NY saying 'whyy are there so many homeless people they should all get on a bus and go to california where its warm' and thenn i got to california for the first time in january and realized that TONS (much more than new york) of homeless people clearly had the same idea! miraculous!

p.s. i don't know whyy my blog apparently swallowed your post.. please post again

Julie_Gong said...

My only real encounter with a bum was in San Fran. I had just gotten myself a pounder of Miller Lite(brown bag included) and was walking back to the curb to finish watching a parade. I was putting my money in my pocket and this bum came up to me and was can I have some money I'm hungry. I told him I was hungry too and put the $10 in my pocket, cracked open my beer, and walked away. I'm glad I didn't get fake stabbed for that.

Hollywood Sucker said...

peter- ah!

jenbun- yeah your masturbating bum story is WAY more disturbing. congrats, you win!

margot- oh i'll be back!

julie- crap. you're way cooler than I am.

Julie_Gong said...

that is doubtful my friend. highly doubtful.

gunn said...

When you give the Trogs money you only encourage the problem.
I tell 'em all to go away, only in stronger language.

Chelsea Talks Smack said...

Dude, I totally have a love/hate relationship with homeless people. Big cities do that to you.

Anonymous said...

I work with the homeless and have pretty much seen it all. First of all, the majority of homeless people are mentally ill. They are often paranoid schizophrenic, which means they hear voices and hallucinate. So when they yell out crazy things, please try to show a little compassion because they are not getting the treatment or medication they need. The medical field has not figured this disease out yet, and it's very disabling.

There is actually very little help out there for the mentally ill homeless, contrary to popular belief. They end up on the streets because there is NOWHERE else for them to go. They aren't functional enough to take care of themselves, rent a room, or hold down a job Most of them really want to work, but nobody will hire them because they are so crazy.

Hospitals won't take them b/c it is too expensive, prisons won't take them (poverty, homelessness, and mental illness is not a crime), all mental institutions were shut down in the 80s, and most families have just given up on their crazy relatives.

Schizophrenic homeless people are in living hell and they don't understand why this is happening to them. They want the voices and the hallucinations to stop. Nobody chooses this fate. A schizophrenic homeless lady I know just killed herself by jumping off a bridge last week.

Homeless people have dogs for protection because they are constantly in danger of getting robbed and raped on the streets. It's an everyday occurrence for them. I love animals, but when you care more about the dog in this situation than your fellow human being, there is something seriously wrong with you. Animals live outdoors, humans live indoors. Who do you really think is suffering more?

The sign of a moral society is how they treat the elderly, the poor and the ill. Considering how we treat the severely mentally ill homeless(as well as our homeless elderly and vets), it's pretty obvious that the weakest members of our society are needlessly suffering. It's better here than somewhere like India, but still, we are not a third world country.

Next time you walk by a homeless person, please don't ostracize and shun them because they have a disease.

Hollywood Sucker said...

anonymous- thanks for freaking out at me. however, if i can be defensive for a minute, let me assure you I am sympathetic. In fact, I think I tried to make that very clear. And I give money and I care. But my point was that I've had a few disturbing run ins. I know they are still people, which is why it's ok for me to be scared sometimes because all people all dangerous.

the end.