Yesterday morning, I walked to the PCC near where I work to get a scone-type snack. As I approached the entrance, I saw a huddled lump of orange hoodie and yellow blanket. The lump kept slouching and then starting and trying to sit back up again, slouching and starting, slouching and starting. I thought it might be D, the youngish homeless guy I bought a turkey club for last week and was getting ready to say hi when I saw the disintegrating cardboard sign falling out of this poor, exhausted person’s lap: “I’m pregnant and homeless. Anything helps :D.”I was too overwhelmed to speak so I stood there for ten minutes, recollecting myself. For those ten minutes, nearly thirty people passed her on the sidewalk, some coming out with full bags of groceries and tossing them into Lexuses, some with steaming cups of coffee (it was cold yesterday morning), some – like I was planning on being – with savory feta and rosemary scones they’d just warmed up in the microwave. All of them were dressed nicer than I was. Not one of them stopped to even read her sign.
I don’t know how to live in a world like this. Not only are the amount of human beings living outside rising like rent (the number of people who slept outside in King County during this year’s One Night Count was the highest it’s ever been and up 20% from last year), but some of these people are young, pregnant women. I’m a volunteer transcriptionist, among other things, for Seattle’s street newspaper Real Change and earlier this week, I typed an interview with two people who had experienced homelessness, one male, one female. “It’s rough on a man,” the man said. “But it’s rough and dangerous for a woman.” (The woman who I interviewed is a cement mason and helped build your Safeco Field before the serious car accident that left her unable to work and, eventually on the street). One thing she wanted to highlight that people don’t seem to realize is just how tired you are from lugging all your belongings around and not sleeping well (both from having to do so under bridges and also from worrying about what little you have being stolen since you’ve got no place to keep it except out in the open). Imagine part of what you have to “lug” around with you is a growing human being that needs your energy.
I don’t know how to live in a world like this. Not only are some of those living outside young, pregnant women, but they are ignored. I am horrified that I was the only one who even looked at this woman, let alone offered to buy her some food. We as a culture should be ashamed of this. This is not okay at all. The fact that homelessness exists and is getting worse and the fact that we can’t acknowledge another human being. Of course, acknowledgment is not enough. This woman, like every human being, needs much more than temporary shelter, much more than the eggs and brownies I bought her. She needs us – you, me, all of us – to care. I did not sleep much at all last night partly because of the nightmares I was having about homeless pregnant women – oh, wait, those aren’t just nightmares – but also because of how many people I witnessed not caring about homeless, pregnant women. Why do we think it’s actually a choice whether to respond to another person or not? Why do we think this doesn’t affect us, too? I don’t just mean in the “most people in America could end up on the street at any moment; all it takes is a medical issue, a loss of job, a death, a breakup of relationship” way. I mean in the “how refusing to acknowledge the presence of another human being will affect your own soul” kind of way.
I don’t know how to live in a world like this. The woman could not lift her eyes to even look at me and was apologetic about asking for “too much” food. I don’t know how to live in a world where a scoop of eggs and cheese, a packet of sausage and a small carton of brownies is “too much food.” I don’t know how to live in a world where not having money to buy that food is cause for shame. And I don’t know how to live in a world where I was the only one who gave a damn that she needed it.