Does The Street Make Any Sense?
On my first day as a Street Sense vendor, I was standing on a corner of M Street in Georgetown, exhausted and a little frustrated. Despite the high traffic of pedestrians passing by in both directions, very few of them seemed to acknowledge my presence, not to mention the copies of the Street Sense newspaper I was desperately attempting to sell to them.
Then an old lady walking by with a depressed look on her face, the kind of person I thought would not pay any attention to me, suddenly approached and leaned towards the copy I was holding. To my surprise she got closer and then made a weird statement. “That is the only thing that makes sense,” she uttered laconically, and “with all the crazy things happening in the world” she added.
She then pulled next to me and got a sad looking dollar bill out her purse, which I was more than pleased to accept as she offered it to me for her copy. But I was not only shocked but also totally mystified by her comments. My initial reaction was that she was one of those old folks suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other type of illness caused by aging.
Her statements would not make any sense to the street dweller (or “homeless” as society calls us). The street, to us, is not where we really desire to be, and the precarious and disgraceful conditions of that habitat and reality are noting a person with common sense would see as making sense.
To me, and I believe that I speak for the majority of the homeless, the street is synonymous with misery, at least to those of us who have not given up hoping one day to reintegrate into normal society. I am very certain that to a person who lives in the comfort of a home-whether a shack, an apartment, a condo, a house, or a mansion-it would make no sense to be exposed to the insecurity and hazards of the streets.
The streets is where low self-esteem, lack of self-respect, and the absence of respect for others are most exhibited, and where a sense of danger, requiring caution, is always manifest. To most people, the old lady would therefore be wrong since it makes no sense to see any sense in the street.
But I would not help but cogitate on her bizarre comments and at least try to make sense of them. I concluded, after thinking it over, that she was not crazy; I now believe she was making a strong point, at least philosophically speaking, and I was simply a slow thinker that night.
The street, or what is going on in the street, is a symptom of the ills affliction society in general. The street is a direct result of what is wrong with society. Logically, homelessness, crime, prostitution, violence make a kind of since only because something is wrong with society. That’s her reasoning here.
Some will ask me, O.K., Leo, were you saying, blame it on society? Well, to a certain degree, society as a whole has responsibility towards individuals and what happens to everyone in society. The high cost of living and low wages in a city like Washington, D.C. do not make it easy for a person with little means to earn enough to rent a place to live and stay off the streets.
You can blame people for their actions, and that’s fair to do, but society can improve the conditions for people when there is a collective interest and effort to reduce, perhaps even eradicate, the tribulations and problems that are found on the street.
No, the old lady was not crazy: it makes sense that when one human being pays little attention to the needs of a fellow human being and displays little compassion for a neighbor living in misfortune, suffering and despair increase. Yes, it makes sense that when very little money is spent at all levels of government to address poverty, homelessness, health care, education and other social programs, destitution will only increase. The street then will continue to be a theater of man’s inhumanity towards man, which is, as the old lady rightly saw it: one of “the crazy things going on in the world.”
Leo Gnawa is a vendor for Street Sense and has been selling the paper since the beginning in February.