Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Not Everything is Pretty
by James Glaser
March 27, 2009

Most of the time things are just fine down here in the South. The people are nice, and the weather is great. I never saw so many flowers until I moved to North Florida, and having flowers blooming year round is a real bonus. There are colorful birds that seem to be singing all the time, and it is fun to watch the little lizards change color depending on what they are resting on.

But not everything down here is pretty. Every morning I drive the same way down to my studio, and in the afternoon I have a favorite route home. Every morning I see the same homeless men standing at "their" corners with signs that say, "God Bless" or "Homeless" or "Homeless Veteran." When you see the same guys every day, they tend to fade into the landscape. More often than not, I see people waving them over to their car, and you can see folding money or a handful of change being given. I have no idea how much these guys make, but they do return to the same spot day after day. Some of these guys are making a career out of it, because I have seen the same guys for more than two years now.

As I said, after a while, these people looking for handouts tend to fade into the background. When I first moved down here, these homeless people amazed me. We don't have street people up North where I lived, as they would freeze to death in the winter. Maybe you get a bit jaded because you see these guys all the time, and you loose your compassion for them.

Tonight, on the corner of Gadsden and Tennessee, I saw somebody different looking for a hand out. There was a woman there, and she was soaked, standing in the rain, and she looked pitiful. Yes, I gave her some money, and she thanked me in what sounded to me like a clear, sad, almost embarrassed voice. She was different than most homeless people. Sad to say most of the guys on their corners look down and out, and if you look them in the eye, their eyes are usually bloodshot. This woman had clear eyes, and though her clothes were soaked, you could tell she looked clean. I think I gave her seven dollars, and I want to believe she used it to eat on, and I hope it helped.

I know it would freak me out to get that far down on my luck and have to ask for a hand-out. I don't know if I could do it. I know I could if I still had kids to take care of, but I would like to think that could never happen to me.

We can always look at street people as former mental patients or drug addicts, but that isn't always true. Some people are forced to the street by medical bills, divorce, loss of a job, or a lot of other reasons they could not control.

Sometimes the streets are a better place then the one you were in. I don't know, but in these times I can't judge the person looking for help any more. I used to believe that if they really needed it, there were social service agencies or churches that would help down on out people, but that is no longer true. Too many people need help. The homeless shelters in Tallahassee have twenty some beds for women, and a couple of hundred for men. That doesn't even come close to filling the need. I have been told there are at least four tent communities here in the county, and there could be more. Two of them are in the city limits.

I don't want to think about how these people live, but I should and so should every American who lives better than they do.

Washington, our President, and Congress are worried about the bankers and Wall Street. They drive around in limousines with tinted windows. Nobody can even approach their cars. Homeless people are out of sight and out of mind.

But like it or not, homeless people are our neighbors. Would you want your neighbors sleeping outside if a hurricane took their house away? Well. A lot of different kinds of storms took our homeless neighbor's homes away, and as a society, as a very rich society, it is really our job to recognize the plight these people are in and do something about it.

As individuals, we can't do much, but if we have trillions of dollars to bail out the rich, we certainly have the billions of dollars it would take to put a roof over the heads and bodies of people sleeping on our streets.

Yes, the South is filled with beauty, but a down and out women on a street corner looking for help from each passing car certainly stands out in stark contrast.

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