Some days are ugly. Some days are hideous. But if those days are disturbing, just think how their corresponding nights must be sinister and unsettling in the extreme.
Several days this past week have been stifling. As I walked through the streets of the Garment District, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown, Chinatown, and so forth, I saw men (mostly) sitting against buildings, their meager belongings gathered around them. The heat and humidity, coupled with the below-ground garbage storage areas ventilated to the surface and the odor of urine and feces of the homeless, magnified the stench of the areas in which those people gathered. I suspect they gather where they do because they won’t be harassed as much as they would be were they to congregate in places less vile and fetid.
During the day, though, these people have the protection of daylight, of witnesses who would see, and perhaps stop, assaults against them. But nighttime gives cover to actions for which daylight is not forgiving. I don’t know this to be true, but I sense it. I sense the fear growing in these men as night falls. They tend to cluster closer together and they to be more vocal, to display their bravado, be a bit more assertive; that suggests to me they are preparing for the onslaught, or at least its potential.
I suspect there are heartbreaking stories around many of these people who live on the street. Drugs, alcohol, injury, PTSD, simple bad luck; things that happened to them. It’s possible they could have avoided their fate had they acted differently, but how can I know? How can anyone who does not stand in their shoes know?
How do they take care of themselves? How do they deal with disease?
What do they do to preserve their dignity? Very little, I am afraid. They have fallen so far beyond the safety net that society provides that many, perhaps most, will never find a way to climb out of the depths of despair in which they find themselves.
My days, all of my days, so far have been so much better than their days are that I feel guilty for my good fortune. That’s stupid, of course, but I can’t help wonder how it is that it’s not me on those sidewalks. I can’t help but wonder whether, if the tables were turned, they would do something for me that I haven’t done for them.