Homeless for More Than 20 Years, Part 2

By Antonio Gonzales

In this second part of my story, let’s continue focusing on the plight of our homeless brothers and sisters, and how they are continuously misunderstood.

I want to talk a little more about Miss, the beautiful homeless woman I wrote about in my last post. What still baffles me is how someone, like Miss, can survive the streets without panhandling?  The first time I introduced myself to Miss, our conversation went something like this:

Can I get you anything?

No thanks, I’m ok.

Are you sure, it will be my absolute pleasure!

Well, a small bottle of laundry detergent would be helpful, so I can wash my clothes.

Her response floored me.  Although she needed food, she wanted to wash her belongings instead.  (Of course, I had to throw in a warm sandwich and a drink along with the detergent I gave her.)

Now this is just one person, one story that I just described.  Not every homeless person is like Miss; just like not every one is like you or me.  We are all unique, with our individualized experiences.

With that in mind, there seems to be a misconception that all homeless individuals use drugs and alcohol.  In fact, I often hear people say that they are afraid to give money to the homeless, for this very reason.  But, I have met many sober individuals living on the streets.  By sober, I mean that they don’t consume any alcohol or drugs.  Shocked?  You can look at each sober case as another miracle of someone holding on to what they can to feel human; and more importantly, to survive the extremely dangerous streets.

My last story takes place on one early morning (6am) in Manhattan.  I was handing out sandwiches, and encountered a young woman, maybe in her 20s.  She was lying in the middle of the pavement on 14th St., close to 8th Ave., on a flattened, cardboard box.  I approached her in my usual way:

Good morning. I have some warm fresh sandwiches and apple juice.  Would you like one?

I can’t. I have a gluten allergy.

In my ignorance, I had never thought of that.  How could I forget that these are real people with normal health issues?  

I am grateful for the amazing people I’ve met on the streets, who continue to change my life.  They inspire me to be a better person and fight my ongoing struggles with ego and need for unnecessary material things.  Most of all, they inspire me to spread the word to you all:

That the sooner we all address the homeless situation in our communities with personal interest, the sooner we can have an impact on these incredible individuals as they try to find their way.  In the process, we can also hopefully find our own way.