cleo is a black woman around thiry five or so. she's a hard core alcoholic who panhandles for money. she can be loud and sometimes sort of mean if you cross her wrong. i've always said hello and kept it moving. one afternoon i was walking to the mission and she was across the street, sitting on her milk crate as usual. i said hello, smiled and kept it moving. but this time cleo jumped up and said...heyyyy...helloooo...and came darting across the street. it sort of took me back alittle. she came up to me and asked...can you help me? she had on long brown pants and a summer sleeveless dress over it. she couldn't quite put her arms thru the hole. i took one of her arms and put it thru one hole. but the other one was alittle more difficult so i had to do alittle more work putting it thru. when i took her arm i noticed how small and fragile feeling it was. i looked at cleo and noticed she had big brown pretty eyes. i noticed how petite she was and how she had some very pretty features. her cheekbones, her short hair, her slender body. i got the arm thru the hole, straightened the dress at the collar and patted her on the arm. she looked at me and said now kiss me on cheek and thank you. well....i didn't kiss her on the cheek but i did say you're welcome and walked off. as i was walking for some reason i thought...i'm not deaf, i'm just starved for human touch and some sort of connection. i've been out on the streets so long that any sort of human contact and unexpecting help makes me feel like a person again. noone looks at my eyes anymore and very few people notice me. i'm not deaf, i'm just lonely.
jimmy was a construction worker. he was injured in an automobile accident a few years back. he had an operation and was prescribed pain killers. now he's a junkie. he gets a ssi check every month, but in three or four days it's gone. he buys pain killers and chew them like pez. at first i was sort of disgusted with that situation because he does get enough every month to have a rood over his head. but the more conversations i had with him and the more i watched him the more i felt some sort of understanding. i'm not deaf....i just need to break this cycle i'm in and go back to work. i'm not deaf....i just need to get away from the people i'm surrounded with and get treatment for my addiction.
when i pass people i know are homeless i always say good morning and look right at them. i can't remember one not saying good morning in return. but sometimes i get something more. i get a brief look at their eyes when someone says good morning to them. i see a slight smile that someone noticed them. i see the human spirit still hanging on in a dire time. yes...it is dire. as sure as the refugees in syria and the victims of the phillipine storm....it is dire for them too. they're not deaf....they're just hanging on to hope.
every nite these scenarios and many like them are played out every day. the homeless aren't deaf....they're just hungry. they are hungry for addiction treatment. they're hungry for human companionship and compassion. they're hungry for a job. they're hungry for understanding. they're hungry for housing. they're hungry for support to return to a life similar to the one they had. every nite people sleep on the ground, in abanoned houses, in the back of trucks, in a mission...somewhere...anywhere. they're not deaf...they're just trying to stay warm and not freeze to death before the sun rises. every nite a child goes to sleep on the floor...maybe alittle hungry....maybe alittle scared...maybe alittle confused why the other children they know are different. they're not deaf......they're just a victim of the homeless cycle.
social workers and advocates and homeless organizations are plentiful and you can find one most places. they're not deaf....they're just overwhelmed and understaffed and underfunded. alot of times they're not even sure how to handle the problem other than the immediate crisis they face every day.
this holiday season remember the poor and homeless of this country. take a moment and try to give them some sort of comfort and hope and compassion. try to look beyond the stigma and stereotyping. try to look at the person. i know alot of times god has looked down at me and said....are you deaf.
are you deaf?