Several times a week my motorcycle and I roll through the intersection at I-35 and New Road and I often see some faded, worn-out people there holding faded, worn-out cardboard signs that have been folded and unfolded, packed and unpacked, dozens of times. Whether the sign says, “Homeless. Need help” or “Veteran needs food” or some other desperate dispatch from misery’s epicenter, they don’t seem terribly effective.
The vast majority of us stare straight ahead and try not to make eye contact. Some people just don’t want to give them a buck or two. Some are in a hurry. Some — perhaps more than just a few of us — are frightened of these people. After all, they fit right into folks’ ideas of what trouble incarnate looks like. Don’t bad guys look like they haven’t had a haircut in weeks and wear stained T-shirts and dirty jeans?
And some do. Then again, many a miscreant among us dons clever camouflage and slithers right past our prejudices and preconceived notions to pick our pockets and our bank accounts. They would be the ones wearing business suits and designer clothing. What were those thousands of Wells Fargo employees wearing when they opened a couple of million fraudulent bank and credit-card accounts? It’s a safe bet it wasn’t beaten-up ballcaps and soiled T-shirts. It’s also a safe bet they were making more than the dollar or two some homeless woman may hope to score from driver’s side windows as she wilts in 102-degree heat in exhaust-spewing traffic.
How about Wall Street execs and brokers? That was the bunch who almost brought down the whole country’s economy with their greedy shenanigans. They can afford some serious designer suits and dresses, can’t they? And they’re the same ones trying to get all those post-crash financial rules and regulations cancelled out. If they succeed, commuters can start handing out $100 bills to homeless standing around New Road!
Meanwhile, we’re all staring straight ahead like stone statues, hoping not to make eye contact with the poorly dressed and unwashed unfortunates who need a buck. While a con man or two may lurk in their ranks, I suspect the majority of them are down on their luck or disabled in some way, physically or mentally — something that could happen to any of us. Denial may be another reason we want so little to do with them. There but for the grace of God. . . .
In my musings about them, I’ve often wondered how I would react to hitting rock bottom and not having a soul to help me back up. People have been known to commit suicide over less. Finding a job and a path to a new life is hard anyway, but for people without an address, a phone or even a place to wash up, finding a job is all but impossible. In the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, these people choose to persevere and survive. That actually takes a lot of strength, not to mention character, particularly in the face of so much indifference and occasionally hostility today. I’m not sure I could match their grace.
Once in a while I see the Waco police talking with them. I hope they’re telling them about services such as those provided by the Salvation Army and Waco’s Compassion Ministries. Veterans Affairs has a regional office and a hospital in Waco. It wouldn’t hurt the VA, which offers many services specifically for homeless veterans, to go down there once in a while and look for veterans. These people are worth saving, even if they do need haircuts and new clothes.