Unless you have ever lived paycheck to paycheck, you will never know. Unless you have ever stood in a welfare line, you will never know. Unless you have used food stamps to feed your kids, or lost your job and had no savings to pay the next month’s rent, or have lost touch with your family, you will never know.
It is easy to objectify people we don’t know. It is even easier to look down upon people and situations we have never confronted. Ironically, humankind is often very cruel with its stereotypes.
On Monday, I strolled around Plaza Park in Ventura, looking for just the right person for our cover image. Her name is Kym. She was seated on a couch cushion in the gazebo, talking with a couple of other homeless people and their friends. In my brief interaction with her, she told me about her hard life and recent release from the hospital after the person she had been staying with stabbed her several times. She said that she hated being homeless, but her best bet for staying off the streets was to return to her abuser.
“You would trade your life to stay off the streets?” I asked.
“What choice do I have?” she replied in tears.
While stories like Kym’s are told and retold, more die-hard situations, what really grieves me are those people who have never had to confront the fear of becoming homeless yet are so quick to judge those who are homeless.
Over the years, I have talked with many people about the vagrant situation in our county, and more specifically in Ventura, with its typically decent climate and plenty of parks to spare. The few things that almost everyone knows is that there are three types of homeless people — the chronically homeless, the episodically homeless (in and out of homelessness based on financial situations) and the voluntarily homeless. Despite what we know and understand about those who are on the streets, compassion seems to be given out sparingly. Oftentimes, those who have the most, fear those who have the least. It is a stark realization, especially for those who are just looking for their next meal.
It is typical during this time of year to be especially warmhearted toward those who have unmet needs. But once the holiday cheer has run out, we are back to the status quo of watching out for our own best interests. Let’s not let the holiday spirit flee into the New Year. As Kym said about a local who gives out toothbrushes in the park, it is the little things that matter the most. Even a few minutes of conversation can go a long way, for both the homeless and the fortunate.