One Cold Day In Paradise

On my way to talk to a group of students about homelessness, the wind chill on this day made what was already a bone chilling 5 degrees. Even though I was dressed for the occasion, I still couldn’t feel my face. As I walked through the Commons I saw something shocking. There is a homeless woman who sits in a lawn chair every day by the Park Street subway entrance every day. We’ve all seen her. Sometimes she has signs attached to what she’s wearing. Sometimes she is shouting at the top of her lungs. I’ve never seen anyone try and speak with her.

I tried once and was met with open hostility. Other people I have spoken to including police officers that have approached her tell me that they have experienced the same. One advocate informed me that she is mentally ill and seems to refuse any help from anyone except for the donations that people give to her. It seems that most people just leave her alone. After all as a homeless advocate said “She isn’t hurting anybody”. You would think that on this insanely cold day she wouldn’t be out here. But she was with wrapped plastic around her clothes to block the wind.

What was even more incredible to me was the fact that people were walking past her without so much as a glance. “Come on”, I thought. I know it’s cold. Isn’t someone going to question why she’s out here? Are people really going to continue to walk by her and not be concerned for her safety?

I called the mayor’s hot line. Apparently that day I wasn’t the only one, efforts had been made to convince her to go inside but to no avail. So I thought, “They’re just going to leave her alone”. REALLY? I guess it’s like the advocate said to me, “She’s not hurting anybody”. But she is. She’s hurting herself by sitting out here in sub-zero weather. Obviously, she can’t comprehend what danger she’s putting herself in. If that’s the case shouldn’t she be forcibly be removed for her own safety.

Now, I know that would violate her civil rights. What else are you going to do? And apparently I seemed like the only person that was concerned. Everyone else was just walking by. That seems to be all people do these days when your talking about homelessness and poverty— walk by. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one who even cares about this topic anymore. I know I’m not. On this day it, certainly, seemed that way. I went to give my talk. When it was over, I didn’t go back through the Common to see if she was still there. I went another way. I guess that makes me guilty too.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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