I’ve been thinking about them since this morning when I took a shower, because I could see them clearly from my second story window. And probably because I was taking a hot shower and they weren’t.
Actually, before that I was thinking about having inconsistent internet in the hotel. Definitely a first world problem. But they have been on my mind all week.
I hesitate to call them homeless. I’m sure home does not mean the same thing to them that it means to me. They have a place on a corner where they live and I have a farmhouse on 20 acres where I live. But home is never just a place.
And the place they have is not such a bad place, by any standard of their own. They are sleeping on the sidewalk, but the weather is beautiful. And they have a shelter built of brick and tarps where they keep a stove and other household items and where they probably huddle during the brief monsoon season later in the year.
On the other corners of their intersection there is a Methodist center, a Y.M.C.A., and a Muslim community center. I expect they feel fairly safe there. And there is a large athletic field right behind them where the children could play when they aren’t begging on the street.
And if you want to beg, I doubt if they could do too much better, since an endless stream of soft-hearted, guilt-ridden American college students move in and out of the Y, giving them granola bars and money.
The dad has a job, too—he gets up early every morning to wash taxis parked along the street. And frankly, the children appear loved and cared for, even if they don’t have a family dentist.
So do they sit around thinking they are homeless? I doubt it. Do they sit around thinking they are unhappy? Probably not.
I’m not arguing that nothing should be done. I’d like everyone to have clean running water, for example. I’m just saying it is easy to impose our own vision of home and happiness on people who don’t care as much about it as we do. Compared to the street people living under the highway nearby, I expect these two families feel like they are in pretty good shape.
In fact, they are in good shape, partly because of what I will call the puppy dog framework of American charity. The kids laughs and giggle and basically perform for us, and our students open their wallets and their hearts. Everyone feels good and nothing changes.
I’m not arguing against such compassion, either. I’m just saying the situation is more complex than we can imagine. How did they get this corner? How do they keep it? Can they send their kids to public school? Why don’t they? What is the families’ relationships with the cab company? Do they provide security too? When I return next January will they still be here?
There is so little we understand. And so little we can do. I’d be the last person to begrudge them a granola bar.
But I want to be the first person to think it is not enough.