Tag Archives: homeless people



It doesn’t matter why we were in Fresno, CA at 9am on a Friday morning.

I was jacked up on coffee, it is true, and I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before, but the sun was shining and the temperature had dropped on that first day of autumn.

I’d exited Highway 99 to get breakfast at Taco Bell and use the internet. When it was time to get back on the 99, we could see the highway, but due to the one-way street we were on, we couldn’t get directly to it. The Man was working with Google Maps to get us to our destination, and I found myself driving through an industrial part of the city that looked sketchy to my no-longer-accustomed-to-an-urban-environment eyes.

Make a left, The Man told me.

Here? I screeched. I could see railroad tracks, but no street.

Here, The Man confirmed, and I turned. There was a street there, narrow and running next to the tracks.

It wasn’t a place where I’d expect to see people walking around, so I noticed the woman near what appeared to be a warehouse. There was rubbish piled all over, and while the woman was standing, she seemed somehow hesitant, as if she’d stumble if she took a step. I didn’t get the impression she was drunk, but imagined she’d recently awaken and emerged from a nest in the trash. Maybe she wasn’t fully awake and still unsteady on her feet.

I glanced at her and made assumptions about her in a second or two while I was driving, then put my eyes back on the road. When I looked at her again, I realized something else.

She was an African-American woman, thin, wearing a red ball cap and a long red shirt, but I’m pretty sure she wan’t wearing pants. I didn’t see any private parts or underpants, and maybe she was wearing short shorts under he long red shirt, but I don’t think she had on pants or a skirt or any sort of bottoms.

Some people would make a joke here about a woman who forgot to put her pants on, but I didn’t see anything funny, only felt profound sadness.

After telling her about the woman, Nolagirl said in a text, She probably has some mental illness which makes it hard to remember you need pants. That’s probably true.

It shouldn’t happen to anyone—mentally ill, living on the streets, sleeping in a pile of trash, no pants or the recollection that pants are a necessity—but it’s not a way of life we associate with the developing world, not here in the good ol’ US of A.

I know people are homeless, I’ve seen them, and I’ve been one of them, but even I can be shocked when confronted. No wonder so many folks who’ve never lived on the streets can pretend it’s not happening in their country and can believe those homeless people are different, a foreign other.

In seconds, we had passed the woman. The Man never even saw her. Out of my sight isn’t out of my mind, though. The woman haunts me. I wish I could have done something for her, but what?

What could one stranger passing through, a stranger in her on edge-living situation really do to help? I suppose I could have given her a couple of bucks or a pair of pants, but would either of those things have really helped her? My tiny offerings would not have changed her life. Still, I feel as if I should have done something.



Just a Homeless Person


I know tourists are just trying to be affable. I know they’re not trying to offend. But sometimes the things they say really chap my ass.

Several times while working at the parking lot, people have made the “joke” that I probably don’t actually work for a company authorized by the Forest Service to collect parking fees. They “joke” that I’m probably just a homeless person who’s standing out there, scamming drivers out of $5. Of course, I’m standing there in brown polyester-blend pants and both a shirt and a hat with the company logo on them. I’m handing out glossy, color trail guides and cardboard day passes printed with a number and the instructions Hang on Rear View Mirror This Side Out. If I were scamming people, I’d have had to make a large initial investment in props.

I find the you’re just a homeless person “joke” offensive for several reasons.

First of all, it assumes homeless people are dishonest. The “joke” isn’t that I’m a homeless person working for a company. The “joke” is that I’m a homeless person unauthorized to collect a $5 parking fee, a homeless person scamming the driver and pocketing the money. The “joke” is never about me being a recently laid off person or a single mother trying to make ends meet. The “joke” always includes the part about being homeless and perpetuating a scam.

Secondly, the “joke” implies homeless people are lazy. The “joke” is “funny” because everybody know homeless people don’t actually work. These tourists don’t really think I”m homeless because they “know” that if I were homeless, I wouldn’t have a job, I’d just be sitting at an off-ramp flying a sign.

(Note: I’ve stood at off-ramps flying signs. I personally am not negatively judging  anyone who flies a sign. I see flying a sign as less harmful than a lot of other things people do to make money and get by in this world.)

I guess the main reason I find the “joke” so offensive is because I essentially am homeless. I live in my van. I don’t have a house somewhere. I’m not living in my van on a lark. I’m not working a summer job for fun or to supplement my pension or trust fund. I’m working my job because I need to eat, and I’m trying to take care of my teeth, and I like to have gas in the tank, and maybe I want to give Christmas presents to my friends and family.

For all intents and purposes (and some other time I can write about the ways living in my van is my choice), I am a homeless person. I am a homeless person with a job. I am a homeless person who was hired by a company to stand in a parking lot in a National Forest and collect $5 for each car that’s parked there. I’m a homeless person who puts on her uniform every morning and gets to work on time. I am a homeless person who is not scamming the hardworking good citizens of the United States and the world. (Although I’ll admit one of the reasons I took this job is because I’m too lazy to work in an office or a factory.)

Of course, the first ten times I heard this “joke,” I didn’t know what to say. I tried to joke back about my uniform or polyester blend pants. (Who’d wear these clothes just to make some money? I said, until I realized, oh, yeah, I am wearing these clothes just to make money. I sure wouldn’t wear these clothes if my paycheck didn’t require it.)

The day I heard the you’re just a homeless person “joke” twice in one afternoon, I decided the next time someone said that to me, I was going to say, I am homeless. I got tired of hearing people yell “Get a job!” while I was flying a sign, so now I’m pulling myself up by my bootstraps!”

Is that too long for a comeback?

(No one’s made the “joke” since I decided on my comeback.)