The homeless use the bathroom too…REALLY???

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by Kenneth Justice

~ Last week while walking down the beach early one morning in the Caribbean I came across a homeless guy who was passed out beside his makeshift shelter in the jungle. Apparently he had too much to drink the night before and wasn’t able to make it inside his dilapidated tent.

The area surrounding his shelter was covered in trash; sopping wet clothes hung out on tree limbs in a futile effort to dry (its the rain forest after all), beer bottles and plantain peels littered all around, and hundreds of cracked open coconut shells…..it was an odd picture of humanity since all around his campsite was utter paradise.

When I arrived back home to the Midwest after my trip, the first person to greet me at the one coffee shop I hang out at was a homeless guy. He and I always share a few minutes of chit-chat whenever I have a moment to spare….and when he excused himself to use the bathroom I noticed the other patrons in the café were staring at him with dirty looks.

Whenever the homeless people who hang out at the café’s use the bathroom its almost always a given that the patron’s will stare at them with contempt; “how dare the dirty homeless guy/girl use our public bathroom!” is what their eyes are clearly conveying.

I’m not really sure what people want the homeless to do; pee on the sidewalk or in the back alley? Of course, ultimately I suspect people are thinking to themselves that somehow a man or woman who is homeless is a plague on society. Maybe people think, “If you are homeless it must mean you are a degenerate or an awful person“.

If the homeless guy on the beach wasn’t totally passed out I would of really liked to have asked him a few questions;

—-) What’s it like living on the beach in the Caribbean?

—-) When you get hungry do you simply climb a tree to pick a coconut or plantain? Do you ever even go without food since you’re surrounded by so much natural vegetation?

—-) Do the locals here in Costa Rica treat you poorly because you are homeless?

I’ve written about homeless people numerous times because it is a facet of Western Society that we simply can’t ignore; in many major cities the homeless problem is staring at us in our face. Last year I met a number of different people under the age of 25 who were homeless…..many of them had the option of returning home to family but they were choosing to remain on the streets.

Many years ago I found a 16 year old homeless girl and despite her trying to tell me her parents were nuts, I talked her into letting me drive her home. When we got to the front door of her parent’s house house the mother greeted us by cussing her daughter out, “Where the f**k have you been you f***ing slut!” she said, “You haven’t called in two f***ing months and your father and I thought you were dead! You are so f***ing grounded that I’m never gonna let you see the sun again!

The verbal tirade toward the daughter went on for fifteen minutes, all of which the 16 year old remained silent not saying a word, and then, as quietly as she walked into the house……she walked out the door and got back into my car. Sadly, the young woman’s pastor wouldn’t let her move in with him and his wife and a year later when I ran into the young woman again she was 8 months pregnant and hooked on crack.

There are so many reasons people become homeless;

—-) Some people are mentally ill

—-) Some people have gone through financial difficulties

—-) Some people are escaping families and relatives that are driving them nuts

And perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that its a tad bit insensitive to give a homeless person a dirty look when they need to use the bathroom. After all, if you drink a lot of coffee it tends to press on your bladder. Which reminds me, I think I could go for another coffee right now.

Kenneth

If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a national and worldwide tour of over 100 coffee houses meeting readers, bloggers, and everyone else in between. Check out the link for dates and locations



Categories: Culture & Society

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93 replies

  1. I was in San Francisco for two weeks in December and was really shocked by the numbers of homeless people I saw – some living on park benches with their worldly goods in old shopping trolleys, some living in their cars (that counts as homeless in my book). The disparity between the super rich in SF and these people was very stark.
    There are homeless people everywhere you go in the world, and I think one of the reasons that people like the patrons in your cafe seem to dislike them (which is also universal) and don’t want them to use the toilets there is because of a deep unspoken fear. As if they thought homelessness was a virus that they might catch if they came too close, a fear that they could find themselves in that position.
    Keep reaching out Kenneth – prove to them that homelessness is not contagious, and that you can treat the homeless just like everyone else, with civility and compassion.

    • I was shocked at the amount of homeless in San Fran as well, and then I learned the city gives them a check. If you check your receipt from something purchased in that city, you’ll see a 3% sales tax that goes toward their checks.
      And I’d much rather they use the bathroom than alleys and stairwells.
      That being said, is it possible it was simply a matter of cleanliness for the other patrons? Just positing here – nothing else.

    • Dewey,

      That’s a very fair question you’ve posed. Because I think a lot of people simply believe that the homeless people will make the bathrooms “dirty”….and although I’ve never worked in a restaurant or fast food, my friends who have tell me that the people who “dirty” the bathrooms come from all walks of life: some people are simply not very considerate of others no matter whether they have money or not 😦

    • This is a very good point.

    • I thnk “virus” is a good descriptive word because the way people treat them is often akin to the way they treat a virus; it’s as though they are wearing invisible surgical masks to prevent themselves from getting “too close” to the homeless!

  2. It proofs how we perceive a homeless person.9 out of ten times we see them as drug users. And that is mostly thanks to media..
    Could we truly make people look differently when so intoxicated by what the media is telling us.
    We talk about drugs problems, addicts but seldom about poverty and homeless. So it is easy to think one is a cause of the other.

    • Ranting crow, your so right; most people think of homeless people as drug users…..and what is funny is that having worked as a drug counselor I can tell you ALOT of people in the suburbs use drugs! A lot of wealthy people use drugs and are alcoholics

  3. It’s a sad world we live in isn’t it.

  4. Nice post. The great invisible until they enter “our space” and are then resented for it.
    I follow this blog (below) : he has made the “invisibles” really ordinary. I find that so inclusive without any campaign, cost, big stuff. Made a part of society just “society” – just another human like me – in my head. Just like you do.
    http://gottafindahome.wordpress.com/

    • Yea I’ve seen that site before……I volunteered at a homeless shelter for awhile and perhaps I’m wrong, but I felt that we would do more as a society to help them if rather than having “programs” for the homeless, we would simply start reaching out to them as individuals, churches, small groups of people,etc……the “big” programs end up becoming a whole culture unto themselves and can actually end up creating a bigger problem…..IMHO

  5. Gripping post. It is sad how people treat people in general. I am saddened at the number of people in the world who are homeless. We are not here to judge, hence we do. But people don’t look at the person inside or consider what has happened to them. They also think it’s impossible that someday they could be the one who is homeless. Peace, love and blessings on you journey. I know it will be interesting and transformational. Have a great day!

    • “…but people don’t look at the person inside or consider what has happened to them”

      Right. Too often our first inclination is to merely judge people based on the way they look, or the way they appear to us; but as you said, we don’t know how they got to where they are, we don’t know what has happened to them in their life

  6. good post

  7. Kenneth, in which Atlanta area coffee shop can I find you in March? I would love to stop by for a quick hello.

    • Lil, I will be at Intermezzo at about 10ish in the am and at Atlanta coffee roasters in the afternoon….there is a link at the top of my website with dates and I think I linked to their websites if people need directions. I would LOVE to meet ya, I don’t actually know a lot of readers and bloggers in Atlanta (only a handful) so I chose the city first as a way of having a laid back start to my U.S. stops 🙂

    • I look forward to getting over there to see you!

      We are definitely laid back down here so it should be a relaxing stop for you. If Intermezzo is the place I’m thinking it is YUM!!

  8. The thing that got me the most was that the pastor and his wife wouldn’t take her in. If they were unable to take her in, couldn’t they have found someone in the church willing to help her?

    As a nurse, I too have seen drug addicts and alcoholics from all walks of life.

  9. “If you are homeless it must mean you are a degenerate or an awful person“.

    This is exactly what I thought…before I became homeless. Like the girl in the post, I became homeless by choice and honestly, I did feel “less than” for not being able to make my life situation work. It truly was an amazing journey…one I am glad I took. Thought I felt like a failure, my original mindset was to take everything as an adventure…be open to new experiences (good and bad). Within three days I had blown through all of my own preconceptions about homeless people…and my own feelings about being one.

    As far as the treatment of homeless people…being plague like, I think that part of this falls on the homeless themselves. The way they look and carry themselves often makes them look at a disadvantage.

    1) There are homeless shelters almost everywhere.

    2) They have showers and you can shower daily.

    3) They feed you or refer you to some place where you can get food.

    4) They get TONS of clothing donations.

    5) They have job search programs – places where you can work on your resume, search for jobs and apply for them.

    6) Many professionals volunteer. I have seen this done by dentists, eye doctors and actually received some desperately needed chiropractic.

    7) Toiletries are donated, as are free haircuts.

    Despite all of this, the majority of homeless choose to live like they don’t have any services. I always made sure I looked great! After all, I was trying to get a job and become un-homeless. I often got compliments on the way I looked and I ALWAYS responded…just because you are homeless, doesn’t mean that you have to look homeless. I tried to set the example and for some it worked, but not for others.
    I agree with you that programs aren’t the end all be all. Communication is the only opportunity to discover what each individual needs in order to arrive at that point where personal pride pushes them to change their life…forever. While I was there, I helped five other people get out of the long-term homeless system.

  10. Here in my neck of the woods we have actually had incidents where business in areas frequented by the homeless have put locks on their restroom doors in an effort to keep them out. The local government will not allow current shelters to expand and has made it almost impossible for new shelters to be built within the city limits. Then just recently, during a severe cold snap, the authorities went in and cleared a homeless camp that had been situated on city property, taking many of the things they needed to keep warm. Yet these same authorities proclaim their desire to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    • Russ, I’ve heard of similar stories about local governments. That kind of stuff drives me nuts; too often government acts with no sense and if I think about it too much it gives me a headache

  11. What I find fascinating, from an observers point of view, is that homelessness is one of countless experiences of suffering that is simply part of the human condition. We experience our own personal suffering based on the unique design of our lives. Yet some fail to recognize this aspect of human existence and continuously negate those who don’t suffer the same way as them. It’s at the core of all prejudices.

  12. Tittle sounds funny but it’s sad at the same time. ” if the look could kill” that’s how people look at the homeless . It’s like the gifts around the Christmas tree that everyone spots at the pretty, big,. Boxes not what’s inside of them. Looking well groomed and nice dressed doesn’t prevent virus or disease. I’ve seen millionaires at the hospitals hooked in drugs with many infections, viruses.. Horrible scenes.
    Maybe they should change the signs to “Public Bathroom” might help..😃

    • “I’ve seen millionaires at the hospitals hooked in drugs with many infections, viruses”

      great analogy…..its true; one can be rich and look perfect but on the inside sick.

  13. Sadly, many young teens have been kicked out of their homes. 😦

  14. When a society becomes cruel and beats down its citizens, due to financial, judicial and political profit, the ones not able to overcome the huge difficulties usually end up in the streets. And since this world has become an arena for the people, some will end up in the gutter. And it is sad, because some people still do not understand, that when rules change and affect some people, maybe the next time the rules change it is our time to live in the streets. Maybe it is now the time to hit the streets and try to make a change for our fellow humans.

    • “because some people still do not understand, that when rules change and affect some people…..”

      exactly. Too many people look at the poor and think that its ‘the poor person’s fault that they are poor’…..there are so many verses in the bible that refute this way of thinking but sadly people still live in this destructive thought process.

  15. Sadly many people assume that homelessness is their own fault. While that is true for some, there are many who did not do anything to cause their homelessness, other than a series of things out of their control. We need to see them as an opportunity to serve, as opposed to a blight on our personal space.

  16. wow – this post reminded me of a movie that I keep hearing about (and hope to go see this month) called “Gimme Shelter” -Have you heard of it? James Earl Jones is in it and front eh Trailer – it looks like this girl encountered home similarities wight he girl in your example today. Here is the quick summary”

    ~”Based on a true story, “Gimme Shelter” ultimately is about the work of Kathy DiFiore, who created Christian shelters for pregnant teens who want to keep their babies.

    The movie genuinely seems to be about how the “system” has broken down entirely, and how sometimes it is up to privately funded charities to provide a light at the end of the tunnel.”

    • Yvette,

      I hadn’t heard of the film, good for J.E. Jones though, I’m glad he’s making movies again, I hadn’t heard of him starring in anything for quite awhile. A long time client of mine is his cousin and sees him at family functions all the time but for whatever reason I always forget to ask how Mr. jones is doing

    • Well I KEEP hearing about the movie – whew -and another ad promo was just on a Christian station too because I guess faith (and pro-life) underpins the plot. Also heard the girl that plays “Apple” – the lead character- is dynamic!! and it look alike it all ends with some elated, euphoric hugs (lol)

    • My family and friends tend to make fun of me for the kind of movies I watch the most; does it end in tragedy, does it end with no concrete explanation, does it end leaving the viewer with more questions than answers……then it’s probably something I’d love 😉

  17. This is a wonderful insight into homelessness. Thanks for being so compassionate.

  18. Kenneth,

    I just posted from another account by accident – but what I said was true. Thank you for your compassion and for your insight into this topic.
    Rhan

    • Thanks Rhan….btw: I booked my ticket to Denver this weekend so next up is to buy my ticket to San fran and i’ll let you know the dates when I get it finalized 🙂

  19. Love this post! You know, when I was growing up, my parents took me and my sister to outreach events through our church : feeding the homeless, watching the children of homeless people while the parents washed, showered, got new clothes, etc. When I was a teen, I really had contempt for homeless, because they were dirty, smelly, scary and “Why don’t they just get a job?” Well, after becoming an adult and getting married, we lived in some extremely poverty stricken areas in San Bernardino, and Phoenix, AZ (a few times we were homeless, going from relatives house to house). My husband was an addict, and he would bring people by our house who were homeless (or practically so), the dregs of society, and I grew to have alot of compassion for them. They knew they could stop by on a hot day and I’d give them a drink of cold water or food (if I had extra to share). I came to see them as people, with feelings, with problems, people who often lack hope, people who never wanted this life, who never dreamed of becoming homeless or addicted to drugs. Now, I don’t look down on people who are homeless, dirty, smelly, different, weird….because I recognize that I’m a human being, just like them, no better, no worse. Everybody needs love and compassion.

    • great comments Kristi, I’m glad that despite your husband’s problems and the type of person he was….that you’re still able to see good things about him such as his love for all those people

  20. I met a young man a few times recently. The first time was in the Fall. He had flip flops and a short sleeve tee and jeans. It was cold. I got the shoe store to give me a discount on some inexpensive sneakers. He had a little dog – very cute and nice… he was on the run rom the law he said – he said he’d stolen some cash from a relative… don’t know. I met him a week or so later, He had a light jacket. A month later I saw him on my regular route home – he was panhandling and he was with a woman that I usually had seen on the route. I sometimes give them bottled water and a few dollars. A few weeks later he wasn’t on the route. I had a moment for the lights and I asked how the woman was doing. She was chipper that day. She was happy because her boyfriend (the same man) was accepted into an auto mechanics program. She said that the incident of theft had ben dropped by his aunt. Here’s hoping for them and a little prayer.
    Lord, I pray that You will bless us all and also give us the patience and where-with-all to see that being of service and giving some even small hope to others is along the path that You watch over us upon. I’m thankful Lord for the moments of Your awareness that I take the time to realize. These are good times Lord. Please fill us with Your Love. Amen

  21. This post resonates with me in all of the ways outlined in the comments. We have homeless people here in Barbados too, another Caribbean paradise; yet I think most of us behave as though we could never be homeless. Life happens – it doesn’t matter who you are, the tables can change and you can be unemployed, lose your home, lose your family, lose everything. I always say that a homeless adult was once someone’s son or daughter; they weren’t born homeless. After reading this post, apart from giving whatever spare change I have, I am thinking I should probably do more. Thanks for the jump start; your words are indeed powerful.

    • wel said Gale – and quite sobering, but true… “the tables can change and you can be unemployed, lose your home, lose your family, lose everything…”

  22. SUch is our society today:)

  23. I’m enjoying these ‘man in the coffee shop’ interviews with assorted characters.

  24. “I’m not really sure what people want the homeless to do; pee on the sidewalk or in the back alley? Of course, ultimately I suspect people are thinking to themselves that somehow a man or woman who is homeless is a plague on society. Maybe people think, “If you are homeless it must mean you are a degenerate or an awful person“.”

    Whether or not a homeless person is degenerate or awful is irrelevant to the fact that they urinate.

  25. Wow, unfortunately people tend to look at the homeless as the ‘garbage’ of society. Ok sure, there may be some people that could really make a difference if they want, but everybody has a story, some sadder than others. We are so quick to judge. Really sad actually.
    Blessings =)

  26. Here where I live we’ve gone one massive and horrible step further by making urinating in public an offense costing $150 but in many places we’ve also demolished public toilets due to them being unsafe. So homeless people rack up debts and are eventually imprisoned for failing to pay fines, some of which could be for public urination.

    I used to volunteer as a street outreach worker. Homeless people are just people too. Our social rejection of them is terrible. Great post and hopefully it gets people thinking

  27. Great post! It’s unfortunate that more effort isn’t made to end the cycle of homelessness in our country. I think a great place to start is to try and provide better education opportunities for homeless children. In my experience working with homeless families, the majority of the time the parents were homeless when they were young as well.

    Just like you replied to a comment above, there are many places for programs and basic necessity handouts for the homeless, but this does not truly solve the problem. I’ve noticed many homeless parents ask these programs for what they need, and buy themselves what they want and pass this system down to the children.

    I’ve written a little of what it’s like to work with homeless children at the link below:
    http://lulufille.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/homeless/

  28. I love your perspective, I believe soon I will be able to help these people. It’s always been my passion.
    Sometimes it’s just a smile with your eyes that convoys a message to them that you love them unconditionally.
    The homeless are wounded people and the only thing that helps them heal is to love them until they can love themselves. It’s easy for the world to love the lovely, but to love the unlovely, now that is the key to heal a dying world.
    As the Great Wizard of Oz once said…
    “ALLOW THEM TO TAKE FAILURE, NOT AS A MEASURE OF THEIR WORTH, BUT AS A CHANGE FOR A NEW START.
    I personally don’t believe the homeless failed. I sincerely believe society has failed them and continues to, with their narrow, callous, and heartless perspectives concerning the homeless.
    Those who deserve love the least
    need it the most!
    Last but not least….As GHANDI once said
    “BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD”
    Great job.

  29. You do a lot of wondering, Mr. Justice. Another great question to ponder.

    ( I think I’m going to start giving the stink eye to those who are dressed well and want to share the bathroom. Then I’ll let them know that they’re cutting in line in front of my homeless friend. Just for fun, ya know. 😉 )

  30. I don’t think being homeless is necessarily bad, it’s not the homeless who are a problem. The problem is the people who harass them and make it difficult for them to do basic things.

  31. Greta post, your compassion and humanity on the subject is inspiring. Thank you for this.

  32. The face of a homeless person these days are different these days. It is possible to be well groomed, shower at the gym, go to work, and sleep in your car (or create some a smarter option, depending on how slick one can be).

  33. Part of the problem of homelessness is the hyper-evil Welfare State (supported by 99% of all Americans) makes the price of homes sky-high, while making jobs hard to get and poor in pay. But ANOTHER part of the problem is moral depravity on the part of the homeless, coupled with vast public sympathy for these largely degenerates. In certain cases the best thing you can do for a homeless person is show him hatred, morally condemn him, punch him HARD in the face, and yell at him with contempt “Get a job, you worthless bum!”

  34. I love the thought of travelling around and spending time just talking to people about their lives and their experiences.

    Every single one of us has a journey. In that journey there are times we need help, or can help, or contribute, create change, learn and grow.

    We deprive ourselves of so much learning when we judge and look down on each other – homeless or not – there is an amazing collection of life experience and knowledge to be shared and most certainly things we could learn!

    Great post, Thanks for sharing!

    ML
    x

  35. Great post and good to see the way people have risen to the challenge of discussing the issues. Here in Spain there are more and more people on the streets. Five years ago there was the same old handful of street people, but now the walk in to the town centre mesns passing a dozen and, if I come back a different way, a dozen more. More compassion, more insight.

  36. Is it possible that if we engaged homeless people for the human beings that they are that some of them might find a way off the streets? Some of the homeless people I have known preferred to live on the streets and that’s fine if it is truly what they want. But many others I have known are, like the 16 year old in your story, there because of severed relationships. When we point and stare we continue the pattern of relationally ostracizing the people who need healing the most. Great observations.

    • “Is it possible that if we engaged homeless people for the human beings that they are that some of them might find a way off the streets?”

      I believe the answer is yes. Of course there are some people who want to be homeless because they WANT to be homeless….but I do believe that a lot of them (perhaps the majority) simply need people to reach out to them with help 🙂

  37. That poor girl. Certainly there are safe houses of some sort she could have gone to, or a friends house? Clearly if those opportunities were even available to her, they failed her. I know of a few kids in my high school who had a troubled family life and ended up living with a friend’s family. My brother had a friend like that. My parents would joke that he was like a second son. His parents were divorced and every other weekend, he was with his mom. On those weekends when he was ‘with his mom’ he spent the weekend at my family’s house. I don’t know the whole story, but I do know there were times where she and him were hours away and wanting to know if they could pick him up.

    I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I wish people had more sympathy. I know people who would rather put an innocent in jail if it meant 10 criminals went to jail. In the same way, people would rather treat all homeless like crap, even if one or two of them are good honest people. (assuming that in their mind most homeless are not honest). Maybe it makes me odd… but I would rather ensure that all who are innocent are free and treated fairly even if it means some bad people slip through the cracks. Same with the homeless. Maybe people are right. Maybe they are mostly terrible people who brought their situation upon themselves. On the off change they are the exception, I’d rather treat them all with dignity.

    • As far as the story of the 16 year old its a long story but the short of it is that I did hook her up with Catholic Social Services who had a young woman’s runaway shelter but she didn’t stay with them because the requirement for her to stay was that she couldn’t leave the facility for two months (Its been years but I think it was 60 – 90 days)…she wasn’t even allowed to leave the facility and go for a walk…..so that was too strict for her and she ended up being back on the street and, well, the rest of the story is just really long……

      there aren’t any easy answers but I like your final sentence, “I’d rather treat them all with dignity”

    • I guess that makes sense. If they can easily come and go, they might go back to they’re old, arguably destructive, crowd. But…. if it prevents people from getting the help they need… I know there isn’t an easy way to avoid that. I just feel like maybe they should look into the exact reason why people like that girl don’t stay and what they can do to help her. The same method doesn’t work for everyone.

    • of the five reasons I quit working at a homeless shelter; one of the main one’s is that I felt they were too strict with the clients…..everyone is not at the same place so to hold everyone to the same standards just isn’t something I could agree with and I had to leave the program.

    • Here’s some more food for thought. In college, I interned for a small human rights organization in Chicago which aimed to end poverty. The organization was very small but they had big dreams. The founder would often say her goal was to be out of business. She looked at other organizations helping the sick and poor and saw a key flaw. In order to go on, keep they’re jobs and maintain stability, they needed people to need them. As she saw it, most organizations fighting to end cancer, for example, only do enough to make an improvement. If they actually cured cancer, they be out of the job. You really think the higher ups at The American Cancer Association want the association to no longer be needed?

      I don’t know how many organizations are like this, but your story makes me think of it. If they keep their policies just strict enough, they can help people while ensuring there are always people in need of help and therefore in need of them.

  38. I missed this post yesterday because of Groundhog Day. I’m glad I read it today. Another great one, Kenneth.

  39. I’ve learn some just right stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting.
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  40. Great post. I’ve spent a lot of time working with homeless people in some of our country’s major cities. Once you get past and over their physical appearance it’s easy to learn that they’re not much different from us and the reality is most of us are one paycheck away from becoming them.

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