My Books For Your Reading Pleasure

My Books For Your Reading Pleasure
Proud Indie Author

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Marlon de Souza on Homelessness


This morning I got on the train and right there on one of the seats was a homeless man, with a trolley filled with his stuff, numerous giant plastic bags and a couple of smaller ones. He smelled. I looked away from him as I wanted to get away, to another car, or at least to the other end of the car I’d entered. I don’t know how he came to be homeless, or if he was mentally and psychologically beyond being able to help himself. He probably was. What can I do for him, more than helping him with a dollar or some food, I thought. I found a seat about twenty feet away and kept leaning forward to see his face, but he was hunched over. There were other people seated closer to him. Like me, no one did a thing. No one can do anything, I thought, to bring about lasting change to someone in this situation. Unless you dedicate all your energy to saving someone. Then maybe. But if they’re not saving themselves or if they’re not able to or have any desire to, what then? What can be done? What can be done? What can be done if, like me, you choose to not devote all you have to helping the homeless or those in need who cannot help themselves? I don’t know. It’s a good question to contemplate on, I now feel.

I looked into my bag to see if I had a piece of fruit or food I could share, but all I had was bread and an avocado. And I didn’t want to give away all my bread and the man had no teeth, I remembered from the very brief glimpse I got of him earlier. I was aware I was justifying my not wanting to share the bread I really liked. But also, when I’ve tried to share my food with toothless homeless people, they’ve often declined the food and asked for money instead. I wanted to go up and talk to the man but what if he didn’t want to talk to me? I didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of the other people in the car, people I would never again see and whose opinion of me did not and should not matter. But it also could have been intrusive to go up and talk to a homeless person just because the person is homeless…what if he saw it as pity, what if it was pity – I don’t like to be pitied when I’m down, not sure that others do…it’s not like I was sitting next to him and starting a conversation just like that.

I decided to give him some money instead. My stop was coming up, so I walked up to the door nearest the man and gave him the money. He thanked me in what sounded like a female voice. I looked at the person’s face. It was a woman. She was old and wrinkled and she had no teeth. She looked tired and weary. She looked at the bill I gave her. I tried to not stare at her and instead looked at her from my peripheral vision. I wanted to talk to her…to talk to her. I looked out from the corner of my eye to see if others would be inspired to give her money too. No one else did, at least not until I got off the train. I wish I could have spoken to her for a little bit. I wonder if she feels alone. I wonder how she feels. I’ll never know. I realized that even if I gave her a hundred dollars, it probably would not change her situation. Still, it’s not enjoyable to have no place to live and no one to take care of you or to be unable to take care of yourself. No one consciously chooses to be homeless. Things happen. It could be me. It could be me. I wish you comfort and peace, lady.

© 2014 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved

Marlon de Souza writes. Among his teachers are water bodies, Robert Louis Stevenson, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Pete Seeger, His Royal Highness Wolfgang the First, Leonard Cohen, and his friend and dog-child, Jules. More of his work can be found on

1 comment:

  1. The issue of homelessness is so hard for me to deal with too. i've done the mental debate - do i give him money or not? deep inside, I'm convinced when I give him money, it's not really to help him; it's to help myself, so I can feel better, because like you, I feel like any money I hand over is not enough. It used to bother me, make me want to cry.

    Years ago I worked with the non-profit sector. I didn't work with the homeless, but I went past a place where a group of homeless kids liked to hang out. They responded positively when I talked to them. Some of them even went to a nearby shelter to sleep/for a bath/meals etc. I used to buy them food. Then one of them told me he did want to go back home. so I bought him and ticket and one the day of departure, walked with him to the bus stop. I left him in the bus, happy that I saved at least one homeless child.

    Months later, I bumped into him. He was with a group of other homeless people, chatting and laughing and sniffing glue. I stood there for a long time, wondering what could have gone wrong. Eventually I asked him. He said he never wanted to go home, but he could see i was invested in saving him. So he let me. I suppose he thought if I didn' expect to see him, I wouldn't. And he'd score money by selling the ticket.
    Wow! I haven't thought about this for years, and i'm not quite sure what I learnt from that experience. Except for the fact I no longer expect to save people. I donate to charities, so experts can do what they can. But I no longer try directly, I guess.