Throughout history, there have been homeless poor people. It’s a fact of life, but that doesn’t make it acceptable especially in a modern society. This is a story about the homeless, some of whom I call the Invisibles. Their story is not mentioned on any news channels or in the newspaper. No one wants to talk or think about their plight. Like it or not we have a serious problem here in the United States. It is a problem that will eat away at the heart and soul of a country because it defines the type of people living here and the government. It seems easier to send a man to the Moon and Mars than to provide a person with a home and a job. Are we ever going to solve this age-old problem?
People walk or drive by the homeless every day. We are so consumed with everyday life, making a living, taking care of the kids, or just going about our busy daily routines to even notice the homeless, thereby causing them to seem invisible. Few people search for the homeless but the Invisibles can be found in every major city in the United States.
Like many people, I never gave much thought about the homeless. Yes, I would give a dollar or two to someone standing on the corner panhandling, but other than that I didn’t do much to help them. Then one day, all that changed when I meant Grandma. After meeting her I realized we have a serious problem, right here in River City. After meeting her I realized how lucky I was, how blessed I was to have a home and job. It occurred to me that under different circumstances or by luck of the draw these homeless people could be my grandmother, mother, brother, or wife living on the streets. They could also be someone in your family whom you love. They could be any of us if lady luck turned your world upside down.
The poor homeless live and die in the gutters of our streets. Most have no family or anyone who cares enough to claim their bodies. Their bodies are picked up off the streets and cremated, being disposed of like a pile of dirt. I don’t know if anyone even says a prayer for them after passing. They lived a tough dangerous existence on the streets that would kill most of us in a few months or weeks.
To see the Invisibles all you need to do is slow down and open your eyes. They’re all around us, sometimes in small groups, or as a single lonely individual standing or sitting in a corner. Look closely for them and you will see what you have been missing. The panhandlers standing on the corners at busy intersections are not necessarily homeless. These are not the invisible homeless that I am writing about. It’s the homeless people you cannot see, they are the real Invisibles. They don’t panhandle or ask for handouts of any kind. They stay in the shadows not wanting to interact with so-called normal people.
Now, who are these invisible people? Are they all homeless? Most importantly, why are they homeless? These questions will be answered to some degree later in this article. First, let’s look at the 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, which is published by HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) for some basic information. The total estimated number of homeless is a whopping 396,000 individual people. Of this amount, the report showed 199,000 people classified as living in temporary shelters of some type. People living in unsheltered conditions total 197,000. The report also states there are about 4,100 children under 18 years of age. It is disturbing to note that 2,100 of these are children living in unsheltered conditions. These totals are derived by taking an estimated count in our major cities just one day per year. The truth of the matter is no one knows how many homeless there are in the United States. The real total would probably shock us all.
Many Invisibles are just like us in many ways. Most want the same things in life that we do. Humans all have the same five basic needs as outlined in Maslow’s theory the “Hierarchy of Needs.” The theory outlines the first need of a human is a Biological/Physiological need. These are; air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, and reproduction. The second need is Safety which includes; personal security, employment, and health. Going up the ladder, the third need is Love/Belonging and it is outlined as; friendship, relationships, and family connections. The fourth one is Esteem which means; respect, status, recognition, and strength. Finally, we reach the fifth need called Self-actualization or Self -fulfillment meaning you have achieved your full potential in life. This self-fulfillment level is different for every person.
The general idea is once you have satisfied the first need you move on to the second and so forth up the ladder until you have reached self-fulfillment. However, people are actually moving up and down the ladder trying to satisfy their needs throughout their lives. Most of us can only achieve a level of three or four. For one to be completely satisfied, reaching self-fulfillment, is difficult and almost impossible to sustain over a long period of time. Most of us are always striving to do better or improve our lives and relationships.
If you have watched the TV show ‘Naked and Afraid’ then you have seen Maslow’s theory working in its primeval form. On the show, without exception, people who are thrust into the wilderness first find water, shelter, and food. Sadly, many of our homeless are at this raw basic primeval level. Like the show, there is no way for many homeless to reach the second level of Safety which provides security and employment.
As you can see, using Maslow’s theory, the poor homeless people are always working to achieve the first needs of shelter, food, and clothing. The Biological needs must be obtained first. However, the second level of needs (Safety) could be obtained during the same relative time as level one and should be if it was available to the homeless. Most of the time Safety or any of its attributes are not obtainable for the homeless. Let’s face it, safety, employment, and health are very important because without these obtaining food and shelter is more difficult, if not impossible. However, without a home stable employment can never be achieved. It’s a catch-22 situation, an endless loop with no way out.
For the homeless, one wonders if the third need of Love or friendship can be reached at all. Maybe it can be obtained in some manner. Possibly that is why many homeless tend to group together. The old adage “birds of a feather flock together” certainly holds true, for the most part, in this situation.
The question is how can they get out of the level one rut? It is almost impossible unless they can find a home or dependable shelter and employment. They require an income to keep climbing Maslow’s ladder. Like it or not, we as a country and as a people are not doing all that we can to prevent homelessness. We are not doing enough as individuals to aid those who are suffering. Our government is not doing enough to eradicate the homeless problem. The homeless problem falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD. Without getting into a lot of detail, which is beyond the scope of this article, it is the author’s opinion that HUD should take more responsibility to solve the homeless problem.
Our main concern should be for the elderly people who have dropped through the cracks of life and lost their safety net for some reason. Now they are too old to obtain a decent paying job and are either mentally ill or physically sick. These elderly people are the true Invisibles. They very rarely ask you for money. They generally do not panhandle by standing on a corner. These people can be found at various times of the day and night outside of a fast food store or gas station that sells fast food. They are standing at the side of the building or in the back, more or less out of sight. When they see there is no traffic going in the store they quickly go inside and purchase what they can and then disappear, returning back to the place they are sleeping or staying. More than likely they are living under a bridge or in an alley that provides some kind of shelter from the weather. It’s a place that is somewhat protected from the weather and off of the beaten path, away from everyday people.
They don’t travel far from their shelter because they have no transportation. The lucky ones may have a bicycle. Many do have shopping carts that they push around. You may have wondered what’s in those carts? Everything that a homeless person owns is in that cart. People who own a cart have some kind of security as that cart has become their home. They may own a blanket, another pair of shoes, possibly some clothes, pictures, canned food, a raincoat, and maybe a Bible. The cart is very important because it contains items they actually own and provides a sense of stability. It goes everywhere they go because if left unguarded another homeless person may steal it.
I believe the reason these elderly Invisibles shy away from people is because they’re ashamed of their situation. They consider themselves to be failures in life. The homeless don’t have clean clothes or the luxury of taking a shower every day. Most of them know they are not desirable to be with or talk to.
This article does not assume to provide the answers to this complicated problem. But if one studies the problem, while keeping in mind the real needs of the homeless is more than just having a place to sleep for the night, then possibly the homeless problem could be solved to some degree. We need to take into account factors such as safety and employment to generate income. It is only then that something can be accomplished to improve the situation of the truly needy homeless people.
It should be noted that not all homeless want to be saved or want to have a home. Some like living on the streets for various reasons. There are different types of homeless people which makes the problem even more complex. I have attempted to classify some of them as follows: Alcoholics and drug users, professional panhandlers (those who don’t want responsibility or a job), those with a criminal history, and the mentally ill or low IQ people who don’t fit into society. They don’t understand how to improve their lives or even how to seek help. Some have had a run of bad luck possibly due to their own mistakes, and finally, there’s the elderly who could be a combination of the above classifications. They are too old or sick to take care of themselves.
I see the Invisibles every day and it breaks my heart. Often, I make it a point to stop and give them a little money to help them out. Not much is given since I don’t have much to give, but it may be enough so they can buy a burger and Coke. What little I do give them; they seem to be thankful. Usually, I see the same people all the time, so I’d like you to know something about these poor homeless invisible people. Most of them have mental issues or low IQs and cannot function in society. The people I contact are elderly or those older ones who are out of sight being invisible most of the time.
The following true stories help to provide some insight into the homeless and their problems. Each homeless person has a story of how they ended up on the streets. However, most will not tell you much about themselves, either out of shame or fear. They try to avoid having a conversation about the subject. I think they are surprised that someone stopped to talk to them and they don’t know what to say or how to respond.
I don’t know their complete names, so I use their first names and give them a nickname to keep them in order in my mind. Now, let’s meet some of the homeless or the Invisibles. These stories are based on my interactions with them.
One day I paid a visit to the mall early on a Sunday morning, since I owned a small store there. I went outside the enclosed mall for a smoke at the main entrance, which is where the food court is located. This is the day when I woke up about the homeless problem. This is the day I meant Grandma.
As I stood there having a smoke, an old lady came up and started searching through the trash cans located near the entrance. I carefully observed this lady who seemed out of place in her tattered long gray wool coat wearing an old faded yellow babushka on her head, which covered most of her face. On her feet, she wore black low heel shoes that seemed well worn. The old lady was slightly bent from age as she walked over to the trash cans. She dug into the trash cans using her bare hands. She didn’t look at anyone keeping her head down paying attention to what she was doing. It seemed she was searching for something valuable.
This seems odd, but I recalled that my Grandmother had a similar coat and always wore a headscarf tied under her chin to cover her hair when she went out. That was a habit from the old country and my Grandmother called it a babushka. Her family came from Germany in the late 1800s.
After the first trash can, I had seen enough and approached the elderly lady. I pulled a hundred dollars out of my pocket, handed it to her, and said, “Grandmother, please take this money. Use it to buy some food or clothes.”
She looked at me in surprise and replied, “Nein danke.”
Grandma had just spoken to me in German, saying no thank you. I was totally shocked because my grandmother’s parents came from Germany. I could understand some German because she taught me to speak German when I was very young.
I replied to her in my broken German and begged her to take the money. I put out my hand once again and she took it. As she took the money Grandma grabbed my hand and kissed it while saying in German, “God Bless you, my angel.”
I had many meetings with Grandma and provided her with enough money to live on each month. She didn’t have to rummage through the trash cans anymore for food. She could afford a small second-rate motel room to get off the streets.
I found out her first name was Bertha. She was 75 years old and she had a sad story. Her husband died and she lost their home because she couldn’t pay the taxes. She speaks broken English and has lived here for 50 years. She became a citizen in her thirties. Bertha proudly showed me her old wrinkled-up US citizenship paper, and it made me cry. She had one child who was killed while serving in the Army. She showed me pictures of her family to prove that once upon a time she had a normal life. Now she has no one, no family, and nobody to help her. Every time I see her, she smiles and says, God Bless you.
I would meet Grandma every Sunday for breakfast at the mall. I had mall security looking after her and I also advised the police about her. Grandma had my business card to call me if she needed help. She never called because she didn’t want to be a problem.
One Sunday, about a year later, Grandma didn’t show for breakfast. No one had seen her. I checked the hospitals and with the police but she just disappeared into thin air. I often wonder what happened to her. That was 30 years ago and I still don’t know.
Grandma was an elderly person who slipped through the cracks. Because of her bad luck and inability to speak English well she didn’t know who or how to ask for help. This should never happen right here in the United States of America. Maybe I should have done more to help her. My excuse is I didn’t know who to contact about this situation at the time and to be honest, I still don’t.
Joe, The Hot Dog Man
There’s Joe, the Hot Dog Man, he pushes around a cart filled with his belongings. Everything he owns in the world is in his cart. It’s overflowing with junk and clothes. He’s a VET. He won’t tell his story to me. He has to be over 60 years old. He looks scared and tries to hide it by being a tough guy. But he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He just acts tough because society has let him down. I wish I knew his whole story.
I first meant Joe outside of a major gas station that also sells hot food such as hot dogs and tacos. Two dogs for $1.75 with an excellent selection of condiments to apply. He was standing outside, over on the side of the building, trying to be invisible. I spotted him as I filled my gas tank and he looked hungry and sick. He slid down along the wall next to his cart and sat on the ground. His head hung down and he didn’t look up as people passed by him.
After filling my tank, I walked over to him. As I approached, I noted his appearance, unshaven gray hair covered his face along with shoulder-length silver hair which was dirty and matted. Of course, his clothes were old, torn in places, and absolutely filthy.
Kneeling down to his eye level, I asked him, “Sir, are you alright?” He lifted his head and just nodded at me.
After a minute I offered him some money but he refused it. He said, “I just want a hot dog mister. I don’t want your money.”
I replied, “Ok, I’ll be right back.” I went inside the store purchased two dogs, a bag of chips, a candy bar, and a Coke.
I handed him the goodies and he cracked a smile. As I set the Coke on the ground near his feet he said, “Thanks, buddy.”
I found out his name was Joe and he was a Vietnam Veteran who had some bad luck and apparently a case of PTSD. He needed medical attention, so I suggested he go to the VA Hospital for help.
Because of his PTSD, Joe lost his wife and job. He hit bottom and could not hold a job. He lost everything, car, home, wife, and money. Joe felt worthless and could not think clearly. I often had to repeat what I told him many times which indicates ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
I saw Joe on and off for about six months usually at the same location or nearby. He was always by himself. He never took any money and only wanted hot dogs with mustard and onions. As with other Invisibles, I don’t know what happened to Joe, the Hot Dog Man. I hope he finally went to the VA as I suggested him to do many times.
I could go on and on and fill a few pages. Most of these people really need help. They are not bums. They are mentally ill or too old to help themselves. Yes, there are some who just don’t want to work, but most just need some help. They don’t know how to help themselves.
These people have dropped through the cracks of society and have become unimportant to most of us. They have become INVISIBLE. In our Christian society, this is not acceptable. If our government can spend billions in foreign aid, millions taking care of illegals, and refugees then isn’t it about time we helped our own citizens!
Next time you see an Invisible don’t drive by them. Stop and help them somehow, if you can. I think God wants us to help the needy, those who cannot help themselves.