I would venture to say the homeless population in Seattle is higher than a lot of places in the States. I suppose the mild climate has something to do with that, but I also am not educated enough on the subject to claim why exactly it is so prevalent on the west coast. As it usually goes, there’s always a good chunk of that population that is not mentally coherent. It makes my heart heavy, but I’m also at a loss of what exactly to do about it.
Don’t get me wrong because I know it’s a touchy subject. When I worked in Sydney (another place with a high homeless population), peddling the streets to get strangers to sign up to give money to charity, I had quite the rapport with the homeless. They were, for the most part, very courteous of our space, and several times I had people stop to ask if it was “a good corner” that day and if people were being nice. So now in my Seattle life, I feel I am more unphased by it than I normally would be. That said, I’m also a girl walking the streets solo most of the time, so there’s a level of caution I realize I need to take as I would in any of my other travels.
I was waiting at the bus stop the other day, and I watched as a man yelled dramatically in pain as he dragged his leg behind him. He was at the stop across the street from me, talking to himself and shaking his head. I didn’t doubt the authenticity of his pain. I also didn’t know what to do about it. Besides, when somebody’s talking to himself, I tend to try to give him a wide berth.
I was wearing my sunglasses, which in my mind have the power to make me invisible and also allow me to stare at whatever is going on around me inconspicuously. I turned my head away from him, making it less obvious that I was trying to diagnose his foot injury from across the road to see if he really needed help and put my best resting bitch face on. I am curious to a detrimental point, and while I try to keep craziness at arm’s length, I also know if there’s a weird situation that’s going to happen, it usually gravitates to me.
Suddenly, I hear him yelling at me from across the street, “Hey, is this the right bus to get me downtown?”
I looked behind me, praying a Good Samaritan had appeared, but he was, of course, talking to me. I sighed, and told him he needed to grab a different one. As much as I didn’t want to interact with him, I also couldn’t send him the wrong direction knowingly. That’s when he said he couldn’t hear me, and decided to hobble across the street to my side of the road. I watched in horror as he moved at a snail’s pace yelling in pain, clearly unconcerned with the fact that cars were heading straight toward him and screeching to a halt. He sat down at the bench next to me, and the scent of booze seeped out of his pores.
As someone who can barely handle the sight of her own blood, I glanced down quickly at his foot ready to make up an excuse and run the other direction and throw up. Thankfully, it was bandaged up. He said he was really hurt, and I offered the only thing I ever know how to do, which is call 911 to get him some help if he needed it. He declined, and the bus pulled up in the nick of time to save me from learning more about the injury.
A different day, I bought a woman begging for money in 87 degree heat a cold water from the grocery store because I would hope someone would care enough to keep me hydrated if I were in her situation. I handed it to her, and she responded sarcastically, “Oh good, ANOTHER water.” My jaw hit the floor, and as rage surged through my body, I decided to walk away rather than getting into a heated argument with her. Then she said, “Oh, it’s cold. Thanks! God bless you!” I kept walking, wondering where the line is from being nice to getting taken advantage of and why room temperature water would not have earned me God’s blessing.
A few days ago, a man came running up to the bus stop in a huff and sat down. He started muttering to himself and rooting through the two bags he was carrying, pulling out a box of donuts, examining it, and throwing it on the ground. I was shocked as I watched the donut massacre, a powder-filled trail of rolling circles leading to the road that quickly got smashed as flat as pancakes by the oncoming traffic.
Swiftly after the donuts followed boxes of corn pops, jars of juice, and canned fruits and vegetables. I wondered how he obtained the bag to carry the groceries that had a cartoon blue owl looking out with over-exaggerated, sad eyes and read, “If you love the earth it will love you back,” because clearly he did not care one iota about the earth. He then opened a box of coconut water, and proceeded to spill it all over my sandals in the line of fire. I glared at him, appalled, as messing with my shoes is a crime in my eyes, but decided starting an argument with crazy wasn’t my best decision.
He started swearing about the government and muttering other profanities, at which point I decided asking him why exactly he was littering with perfectly good food when a homeless man is asking for donations down the street was a bad idea. I got on the bus, and he got up and walked away from the stop, as if maybe he was just there so I could provide witness to his food-throwing rant.
I will say the whole thing makes me incredibly grateful for the roof over my head every night. I still want to do the right thing despite weird occurrences, but I don’t necessarily have the right skill set to help them out. All I can do is tap into the only two I know: offer to call for help, or give them some food when I go shopping. My heart goes out to them all, but I also am left in a quandary on a daily basis of how I decipher who really will accept any kind of help and who gets an attitude. As a woman, that line gets blurred even more, because I obviously don’t want to get myself into any kind of trouble. Until I find how to manage that line, I remain grateful for what I have and try my best to help out if I can.