I live in a beautiful city where the temperatures are moderate and it is often called Paradise. It is known as "America's Finest City".
This time of year is particularly beautiful. Our downtown streets are decorated with lights and full of bustling people making their way in groups full of happy conversation and laughter as they walk up and down the sidewalks to shop, eat at the restaurants and celebrate Christmas.
On these same streets are another distinct group of people. They are homeless. Dirty, destitute, drunk, addicted or simply without resources to get them through a rough patch they find themselves in.
Their presence is hard for the rest of us to look at but impossible to ignore. We do not make eye contact with them. Some of them are clearly mentally ill. They shout obscenities and wave their arms about, so we cross to the opposite side of the street to avoid them. But even if we turn away, we can smell them and we can see and smell the result of their having to live on the street. It is offensive to us. We try hard to pretend that they are not us and that we could never be like them.
I drive to work very early in the morning--just before sunrise--and every day, on my route, there are several adults in sleeping bags, sequestered away under the bridge, on the hillside and out of the sight of all but the occasional passing car, who have taken shelter there for the night.
I can't help but think about the homeless, on nights like last night, when the downtown temperatures dropped into the high 30's. While I was in my warm house with a drawer full of sweatshirts and socks and blankets to keep me comfortable and a pantry full of food -- they shivered hungry, hungover, and alone in the night and many are alone in the world.
That reality gnaws at me.
Who are these people? What happened to them? What is their story? I am sure they were all at one time in their lives, like you and me. They had families, friends, jobs, homes. But somehow, somewhere, along the way, through either bad decisions or unfortunate circumstances, they lost everything. Everything.
I have shivered in a sleeping bag for the duration of two very cold nights. I know what that feels like. It was not from homelessness, but by choice as we were tent camping in the California desert during a very chilly November. The temperatures were easily in the mid 30's. The first night I could not sleep at all. It was agony. Even the second night, better prepared wearing a hooded sweatshirt, socks, and layered shirts and sweatpants, I was still very cold. I was miserable. I have not forgotten what that felt like. I think about those nights when I see homeless people in tents along the Park median and huddled under bridges.
This post is not about condemnation or blame. But it is about humanity. And remembering that the homeless, though they have very little else, have not lost their humanity. And that --they --are us. And we--could be --just like them.
"There, but by the Grace of God, go I...."