Vacation + Feminism + Discomforts of Homelessness

This blog comes with some hesitation on my part, because it’s admitting to something about myself that I’m very uncomfortable with, and I’ve tried to avoid for a very long time. But let me just put it out there: I’m afraid of homeless people.

Why, you ask? I don’t know. Precisely because I don’t know is likely why I’ve made little progress on this, either.

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On a more simple morning not so full of thoughts. 

When I think about this logically, I can interpret many a reason to not be afraid: they are people. Anyone could be homeless. I could one day be homeless. So could my parents, or my uncles, or my best friend, or anyone else for that matter. I don’t think people who are homeless are bad people – rather, I think they are in an unfortunate situation. And if I myself were to become homeless one day, I would hope others would give me compassion and love. Certainly, I would at least hope to be seen, to be acknowledged as a person.

But so many of us avoid eye contact – myself included. I first realized this a couple of years ago. On a street corner not too far from where I live, I noticed a very nice looking business man having a conversation with a homeless man. It struck me as odd, and then it struck me that it shouldn’t strike me as odd, because people are just people. I tried to picture myself as the business man in that situation, and I found that invoked a lot of fear. I tried to picture myself as the homeless person, and I found that invoked a lot of shame.

Since then I’ve made it a point to not avoid the eye contact with the homeless. The only thing worse, I can imagine, than being without regular shelter is being invisible. If nothing else, I could offer a smile and a wave, an acknowledgement of their person, a radiance of compassion. But I must admit, I’m still a bit nervous to chat… My parents groomed me to not look, and to be fair, there were plenty of wild and unpredictable people roaming the streets of Chicago when we visited, and the memories of the ranting and wild arm motions and intense staring has left me with fear that will not leave.

This past week we went on a vacation to Charleston. I could tell you how much fun it was (it was) and the wonderful meals we had (we did) and the dolphins we saw while kayaking (pretty freaking awesome), but the thing that I remember most is one particular encounter I had with a homeless man. Keith was a tad hungover, so I walked the two and a half blocks to get us coffee and breakfast alone, and en route I was stopped by a fellow who was missing several teeth, walked with a cane, and was dressed in a disheveled suit and tie that was an uncharacteristically warm choice for the hot South Carolina weather. He told me I looked pretty, and then told me he was looking for money to buy a soda-pop (his verbage, not mine) and a sandwich. I told him I didn’t have any cash, apologized, smiled, and we walked on.

But the truth was, I did have cash. I could have given him money to go buy breakfast. Or, even better, I could have invited him to come with me to the cafe to buy him a coffee and a bagel, too.

But I didn’t.

So what was I so afraid of? Being a single woman in a new city afraid of getting attacked by an older gentleman who couldn’t walk without a cane? Losing out on a couple of dollars? Having to eat breakfast next to someone where by golly someone else might judge my company?

These were the disturbing questions I entertained while I walked on to get breakfast.

During this trip, I also started to get angry about feminisim, thanks in large to this article, which, although I don’t agree with much of it, still got me thinking about the discrepancies in treatment between men and women. It did make me want to quit drinking (but not enough to not go to the fancy wine and cheese bar that evening, which led to Keith’s subsequent hangover), and it started my gears turning on social injustices, not just for women, but for the homeless, for people who aren’t white, for the many layers of unfairness we have in our society. Charleston is a very segregated city. In fact, an usher at the Riverdogs baseball game explained to us that, “Black people and white people don’t go to the same churches. It’s not that we can’t – it’s just that we don’t. And everyone is okay with it.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret this. On the one hand, if everyone is in fact okay with it, then is it a problem, really? But who decided that everyone was okay with it anyway – was there some kind of poll taken where everyone’s thoughts were considered in maintaining this status quo? And how much are they each missing out on by skipping over each others’ lessons – how much education, how much learning, how much progression?

These are very uncomfortable things to talk about, to consider. And it’s hard to find people to talk about these issues with who don’t get automatically defensive in either direction… My point is, I want to learn. About both sides, of maintaining segregation and finding integration. About caring for the homeless population and not pitying them. It’s hard to discuss because someone inherently thinks something is “wrong” and something else is “right,” but what if there are no rights and wrongs, what if there is only learning opportunities? Then what are we missing? Am I alone in feeling this way?

This week, I encourage you to explore that one little thing that makes you uncomfortable, regularly, repeatedly, but you never explored why. Have some conversations about it, get a therapist, write a blog, meditate – however you want to explore, explore. Good luck to you. ❤

About the Author

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Amie is a human. She teaches yoga and writes and writes about yoga. She is not perfect, and she embraces her imperfections and writes about them here: www.amyisahuman.com.

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12 Comments

Thank you for this. If more people would simply be honest about their own discomforts, and then take the time to sit with it (think about it ) and then talk about it…like you have here…the world would be a much better place. Honestly, it would be better for poverty survivors (like myself) AND those who’ve never walked through that fire.

Again, thank you for writing this.

Since you asked 🙂
I strongly encourage people of all classes and life experiences to do the following:
1) ask your inner circle for recommendations of poverty survivors who might like some help or company. You might be surprised by how many people you already know! So many people think of poverty and homelessness as something those strangers on the street experience, and they never realize how many of their own family members are struggling. Poverty touches us all and (sometimes) the best place to begin is your own backyard.
2) take a social justice workshop. So much of poverty either stems from or is exacerbated by human rights violations that it’s good to know what social justice is and what you can do to help.

Last, i would encourage you to volunteer at a homeless shelter and (if possible) take their street outreach training for reasons of safety and understanding. I have been homeless. The reasons were financial crises and family drama- life happened and i survived. I know just how dangerous the streets can be. While i applaud and remain grateful to every human who takes the time to make eye contact and hold a conversation with a poverty survivor (homeless or not) i also worry about non street savvy people heading out in search of people to help. That’s not what you describe here but the advice remains the same- be prepared. Think of it as a life jacket for navigating the streets (and the streets exist everywhere, city and country) .

I hope that helps. Feel free to shoot any and all questions my way! 🙂

Thank you!! I actually took a social justice workshop a year or so ago which started my gears… But I might stand to take another one. I’m actually as well looking into volunteering teaching yoga at a shelter… I didn’t know they offered street outreach training but that sounds like something I need. Thanks for your insight and for sharing!

Thank you for your incredible words Amy! When I started dated my boyfriend a couple of years ago I remember being totally freaked out by the fact that he (almost always) gives money to homeless people when we pass them on the street. I too was raised like you, to not see them, not to make eye contact, etc. We didn’t live in a particularly dangerous place, so I never felt truly in danger. It was just more a discomfort. Like I was going to ‘catch’ homelessness from them. Now, I makes genuine effort to at least make eye contact and smile. I don’t often carry cash, so I’m not lying when I say I don’t have any -but maybe I should change that. It would certainly help me follow my boyfriend’s very compassionate example. Thanks for shining a light on this!

I think you might find a few of my blog articles enlightening. I sincerely appreciate your honesty, it is one of the biggest struggles just to get people talking openly and with heart on this matter. Best wishes on your journey through life. ❤

Alice Walker said we must own our fears about each other and then in small practical ways one to see ourselves as one. I’m paraphrasing one of my favorite quotes of hers, but you’re doing it. 🙂
As someone who grew up in poverty I can honestly tell you I had similar fears about people with money. I was scared of them and intimidated by them. I think I even hated them for a while. Until I took the time to get to know them and understand why we all do the things we do.
Thank you for sharing how you owned and challenged your own fears. Also I love your beach picture 🙂

Thanks for your insight, Ruth-Anne. Isn’t it funny how we almost automatically dislike or fear those that are different from us? Well, it must be a learned behavior. I feel like children are inquisitive and have no fears. How can we become more like children in that way? Thanks for sharing your story ❤️

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