Tucson, like most cities in this country, has its share of homeless people. The police are efficient at containing them to certain parts of the city. Many areas in Tucson create a naturally inviting space for a homeless person to find a relative degree of comfort. Those areas are situated in all the dry washes and riverbeds interwoven throughout the city. Riding past, the communities of loosely organized tents and makeshift shelters almost remind me of a nature encampment.
I live on the east side of Tucson. Most of the homeless tend to be located on the west side. However, certain homeless people seem to have a vested interest in certain intersections around the area where I live. They lay claim to these locations with determination and ferocity. I pass these intersections daily. They are standing at the intersection with a flimsy cardboard sign with an all too familiar request, asking for a donation.
As I pull up to the intersection, waiting in the line of cars to turn, I always ask myself if I should look at the homeless person standing just a few feet from where my car is stopped or if I should avert my eyes. Maybe it's best to ignore them and pretend they're not there. If I look and they see me, do they assume I'm giving them money? I tend always to give them a few dollars, not every time, but most times.
I am left in a quandary about the whole subject of homelessness. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer to what appears to be a very complex issue.
What do these people want? Are they just seeking a few dollars to eat and procure a safe place to sleep? Are their needs real and legitimate, or is this an opportunity to "fake" being homeless because they are too lazy to work? That is a sentiment I often hear, but one I have a hard time believing. I can't believe this is a life people would be willing to choose. Maybe the best question is, what is the cost to me to be charitable when I can be?
As I watch the cars pass the intersection, I notice very few people bothering to glance at the person standing nearby. If by not looking, they will go away. It saddens me that this group of people, homeless people, seem to be invisible.
I am left with far more questions than I have answers. I am left asking myself, am I afraid of acknowledging their existence and, by doing so, having them end up living in my house? How do I handle the tension between my head and my heart? Is there an end to the giving and the need? How do I find compassion for that person and not "give away the store?" Perhaps, most importantly, I am left feeling that I do not want to wall off my own need to express compassion.
I would also like to consider that I might be afraid of other people's suffering, and by accepting it, I might fall into "the stew" of their lives. Will I fall in and drown? As a culture, people, and species, I would like to feel a person's suffering and acknowledge that I share in that suffering. Is it too much to ask that, as the wealthiest nation on earth, we can ensure that people have access to the basic needs of life? I hope not.
My invitation is for us as human beings to stumble together as we continue to try to understand what might be an issue that is too vast and complicated to find a quick and easy resolution for.
Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of life, I remain open to Grace and the gift of my life.
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