Six months ago I went out to eat with a friend in the Gaslamp District in San Diego. I’d been here for a year so we were celebrating with some wine and a nice dinner.
We were sitting at a table outside people watching as we waited for our food. A few minutes later, a homeless black man appeared outside the restaurant wearing a jester hat, shorts and no shoes. He pulled a large trolley behind him, and started dancing with it, weaving unsteadily on his feet. This was sad enough to witness, but what happened next made me so furious it ruined the night for me.
A white guy with his bald spot, loud mouth and pot belly walked past with his friends. He shall be referred to as the fat white guy.
As the fat white guy passed the homeless guy he turned so he was walking backwards and pointed (actually pointed!) at him. “Man am I glad I went to college,” he announced, laughing uproariously.
This is when I nearly got up and punched him in the face.
You shouldn’t be glad you went to college, I wanted to say. You should be glad you had the bloody opportunity to go to college you smug, self-righteous prick.
That poor guy is a victim of his circumstances and call me naiive, but I think if you’re not going to help the guy out then the least you can do is walk past without opening your big fat mouth.
Who are you to judge another human being? As if being high and homeless was the life he envisioned for himself when he was a kid.
How dare you-with your upper-middle class American upbringing, and ignorant, sheltered lifestyle, judge a man who even high and homeless is twice the man you are. In this situation the homeless guy has my sympathy. But you? You have my pity.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are some “homeless people” who are just running a big scam. On my last night out in Chicago I was standing outside of a bar giving some money to a homeless man when the police pulled up. “Don’t give him any money” one of them said to me. I frowned and told him that was a typical American attitude, and the cop rolled his eyes and pointed to an apartment down the street. “See that place?” he laughed, “this guy lives there with his mother.”
So yeah I understand why a lot of people over here are pretty cynical. When I first got here I was going broke giving money to all the homeless people. My host dad on the other hand, tells the kids that these guys are called bums and if they don’t do well in school they’ll end up like them.
My attitude towards the homeless has definitely changed since I first arrived here. In New Zealand you make a choice to live on the street. One of the reasons I’ll never live in New Zealand again is because I so resent being taxed so much for people who choose not to work, and I’m sick of dole bludgers sitting on the couch watching daytime TV while I’m working my butt off. So I do believe people should have to work for a living if they’re capable of it.
But over here 25% of people on the streets are mentally ill, a high percentage of homeless teens are gay and have been thrown out of home, and an estimated 20% are Vietnam veterans who have served their country and now live on the streets. But the most heartbreaking to me is that around 25% of those going without shelter every night are children.
It’s a complicated subject, and of course I’m aware that there are many countries around the world which have much more poverty and homelessness, but it’s hard for me to understand how a country as wealthy as America (one that continues to spend so many billions of dollars on war) can have such a huge homeless population. One thing I’ve noticed in America is the belief that homeless people are to blame for their own situation, and it could never happen to them. I may be a bleeding-heart liberal, but I struggle to accept the indifference shown to the homeless, when most Americans are only a couple of paychecks from ending up on the streets themselves.
These are just my observations after living here for a relatively short time, and who am I to throw stones? Having not grown up here, I can’t understand why the attitude of “they brought it on themselves” seems so prevalent, and of course there are many Americans who actually do care about others less fortunate, and are doing great things to help them. Living in the area that I do, and being surrounded by people who will never have to worry about where their next paycheck is coming from obviously gives me a one-sided view of the average American.
So have I got it wrong? Has grown up in a welfare country like New Zealand made me soft? Am I only now taking off my rose-tinted glasses and seeing the world for the way it is?