When We’re Entirely Too Comfortable with the Existence of Poverty (Part 1)

cardboard hosue

I saw this happen:

Last week, I was walking down a busy street, and along one of the city blocks, a number of people without shelter stood or slept against the wall of a building. In this location, they were also positioned underneath an awning which kept them dry from the rain. Some of the people had created makeshift shelters with cardboard and tarps.

I had already seen this city block of people when I walked by a couple of hours before. This time, as I made my return, I noticed a person driving a vehicle which was cleaning the sidewalk. My assumption is that this happens at regularly scheduled times.

I might not have noticed this, except that the driver was trying to clean the section of the sidewalk that runs up against the wall, right where people were standing or sleeping. I couldn’t avoid noticing this because one of the people standing began to scream at a woman who was sleeping.

“WAKE THE ?!&* UP!!!” he yelled loudly.

She remained in her cardboard and tarp structure, still asleep.

I don’t know what eventually happened. I stood somewhat nearby for a just a bit, and I think that the driver of the vehicle gave up. That’s when I let myself imagine… how might people respond to hearing this story?

Might we say, “Well, that man nearby shouldn’t have been yelling at her like that. But she also can’t just stay right there. What are we supposed to do? Not have the street cleaned?”

Sure, it’s important to have clean streets. Not saying I would want the opposite, including for the woman who is sleeping there. But I found myself wondering if we would emphasize the situation about an uncleaned street — “We couldn’t possibly have this situation” — above any reaction to the fact that a woman (and many others) are living on the street. How can we possibly have that situation?

This made me wonder how often I assume and normalize the presence of poverty and homelessness as if this is just a natural part of the landscape, forgetting that this is devastating and does not have to be the case. I know I do this too often.

How can we possibly continue to have this situation?

Renee Roederer

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