Stigma Attached to Helping the Homeless

I have twenty bags of stuff for the homeless people in Hayward. The news reported last week that there are 500 people on the streets there, way up from last year. I asked my chorus to donate. Thank God all 130 of them didn’t do it. My car is full.

At a chorus program-stuffing party last night, a guy on my right, a guy on my left, and I discussed the issue. We are all senior citizens.

“Why are there so many more this year?” Ned asked.

“The cost of housing is out of sight,” I said.

“Why don’t they just rent then?” Ned asked.

“Rent is way up,” Mo said.

“Silicon Valley has driven up the prices everywhere, not just in San Jose,” I said.

“Why don’t they get a job?” Ned asked.

Ah, the stigma of helping the homeless.

Another woman joked that she was homeless. She’s a realtor and lives in Blackhawk. I’m not sure what that was about.

Still, I was feeling pretty good.  People brought coats, socks, toiletries and gloves.

At the end of rehearsal, a tiny woman told us to take home all the food she’d brought to feed the volunteer program stuffers.  I walked over to the table and spotted a plastic container of cookies.

“Do you want to give the cookies to the homeless?” I asked.

“No!” she said, as she picked them up off the table.

We had a short conversation in which I explained who I was giving the stuff to, a group that passes out items every Tuesday called Believe Holy Spirit.

“I’d rather they went to a shelter,” she said.  “Handing out stuff is a problem.”

“Whatever,” I said.

I was stunned by her comment and left the church confused at her reaction.

But then I slept on it.

I remembered the homeless guy in Berkeley who ran up to a woman’s table outside a pizza restaurant and grabbed at her freshly-delivered pizza.

“One slice!” the woman said as she shooed off the man after letting him grab it.

I don’t live in Berkeley, but my daughter used to. She’d hide her restaurant leftovers in her coat. Once she offered them to a homeless guy, and he said, “I’d rather have money.”

There was a young woman who sat in front of the Trader Joe’s on University Ave near my daughter’s apartment with a sign that said, “Original poetry, $20.00.” At least she was trying to earn her keep.

Once in Oakland, after I had parked along the railroad tracks to go to the White Elephant sale in a warehouse in Fruitvale, I stayed to the end of the sale at 2:00. When I dragged my purchases back to my car, I noticed that the other shoppers had left, and my car was all alone, except for a homeless guy with his shopping cart.

What would happen? Would he approach me for money? Was I safe? Then he peed on a tree, and I was able to hurry past him to get to my car.

He didn’t see me or didn’t care. He seemed way past interacting with another person.

What happened to that tiny lady from Oakland that led her to her reaction about the cookies? If I hadn’t mentioned why I was taking them, she would have happily handed them to me.

“It’s a problem,” she’d said.

It certainly is. A national one.

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