Mar 5, 2010

Ignoring what hurts

Every time I walk into the city I start counting. I notice the first number usually huddled out of sight. I step over and continue to count the numbers swelling as I reach the downtown area. I notice more counts and I start a second count in my head to acknowledge the responses.

I usually stop counting when my heart can't take anymore, on some days that is one on others ten. Every number is a piece of myself tearing away as I do the second category of denial: seeing and refusing. The second category is better than the vast majority response: outright ignoring and denying humanity, but it still makes me feel like a shell of a person.

I'm talking of course of the people suffering from an economic downturn of years and seasons. The city has a homeless population that is rising with every turn of the earth, yet we pat ourselves on the back with pointless city wide counts that announce their approach like a child yelling out a count for a game of hide and seek. The city wide count of homeless is ineffective as the homeless simply retreat into their buildings, parks and urban forests. The count is simply a way of saving face. I don't count like that.

I count and look at every person who is on the street. I look and try to give them a smile, food, money if I have it and I try even harder to see them as people and not failures who have somehow brought this upon themselves. We cannot afford to think of ourselves as seperate anymore when we see the numbers increasing especially amongst the young.

The most disheartening fact is that the city of Seattle has not even made the ending of institutional poverty a core part of their priorities. Instead we have laws and ordinances making it harder for the downtrodden to make any type of living because we don't want to scare the visiting tourists from Wisteria Lane who would hold a clothe to their noses if they wanted to even recognize someone was there.

Instead of making some changes and choices to give shelter, education and mental health help they need, we have chosen to be satisfied with an annual count that is meant to soothe and not inform. When are we going to make serious reform in regards to the poor and impoverished? We cannot ignore them forever if we want to be able to look ourselves in the mirror. We hug our children and kiss our loved ones while we watch our fellow people suffer.

We need to have a public outcry in order to put the pressure on community groups, churches, and government. We do not want more laws making being homeless a crime, but we want a paradigm shift away from blame and towards understanding. There are numerous groups involved in eradicating poverty and many of them have made the difference in scores of people's lives, but we cannot simply write a check to Real Change, or drop off an old pair of shoes at Good Will, we have to make concrete changes in the way we think of our fellow person.

Give your shoes to charity, write checks and buy papers from Real Change, but don't start subtracting from your count with every handout. People need a hand up. We need to make it unacceptable to ourselves and our city that people live in tents and garbage pails. It needs to tear at us every time we sip on our latte and then shake our head saying we don't have any to spare. The clock is ticking and it is time we stop hitting the snooze button.


  1. Thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking blog entry. It is certainly heart-breaking to walk past so many homeless people on the Seattle streets and I agree, buying a Real Change newspaper ( and other such gestures are a good step in the right direction, but we should also affect change through speaking up on city ordinances and other direct-impact policies.

  2. Absolutely - individual actions are only the beginning, and they have to be followed up with public policy to achieve real change.