As I go out and distribute food to people living in the park, I see and hear things that nearly break me apart. Here’s what I’ve seen and heard over the past week. This is how our fellow human beings are living.
An elderly amputee stops me to talk about shooting squirrels for food.
A vet in his 60s tells me that a blind man is losing weight and coughing up blood. The man moans all night. He is dying. Outside. Alone.
Two men sitting on a bench tell me that they have had nothing but water for two days.
Two women are lying on a blanket together, comforting each other. One has a black eye.
A squad car arrives in the meadow where homeless people congregate and sleep during the day. A police officer and two park rangers are telling a group of people to move on. The group consists of men and women of all ages, including an elderly woman. They might have been drinking or smoking, which are forbidden in the park. The park rangers are often checking to see what is going on in the meadow.
People in the group are screaming at the police officer and the rangers. Some are gathering their possessions and dragging them away. On the pedestrian bridge above, people with food and clothing and shelter are staring at and mocking the homeless folks being dispersed below.
I maintain very clear boundaries when I am in the park. If I see the police or the park rangers talking to people, I hang back. They have a job to do and I give them space to do it. Before I go over to people and offer food, I observe them very carefully. If I sense anything awry, I move on. If people scream at me, I don’t get into it. If other people scream at them, I just observe and continue on.
My job is to offer food, kindness, respect, and courtesy to people who are hungry and homeless. I see so much now that I never saw before. Most people don’t see it. I didn’t see it. Now I can’t unsee it. I don’t want to unsee it, ever.
© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg