I'm not talking about the side-of-the-busy-intersection-panhandler-folkss who are out there from 9-5, M-F and who have nicer shoes than I do sipping on a Starbucks with their sign du jour. (Back in the 90's A man in brand new leather shoes listening to a CD walkman asked me for money once and said he was homeless - not long after that I watched him get into his SUV type of car.) It's a rare occasion that I will ever give a side-of-the road 9-5'er panhandler something, but if I do it's never money anyway. We are on a very tight budget as a one income family. I'll give what I can and it's usually stuff we no longer can use. But money is not usually something we have extra to give away. I'll ask them if they want the half eaten bag of crackers we've been snacking on in the car or if we have any extra unopened bag of chips, granola bars, boxes of raisins, waters, etc. This lady was no panhandler. She wasn't scanning the parking lot to see who she could target with her current sob story about all of her kids and no gas, etc. This lady was just very dirty, by herself and totally in her own world sitting on the sidewalk with all of her belongings in a shopping cart. I felt for her. I wondered who she was in her past life. I wondered if she even remembered who she was in her past life. I wondered what bad decisions had been made somewhere along the road to end up homeless.
The thing that I can't get past is not showering. Especially women. I do not understand how a woman can go who knows how long without taking a shower. This woman was filthy. Her clothes seemed to be fairly clean which was odd because her hair looked liked a greasy rats nest of tangles in the back and then brought up into a snarled, knotted/pony tail thing at the top of her head. How she was not itching her head like crazy is beyond me. I found myself sitting in the car for a second watching her carry on a conversation with the cars passing by. I then noticed the lady in the car next to me was also watching her for a while...both of us probably thinking similar things, "how did you become homeless?" "When was the last time you took a shower?" "What can I do for this lady as a stay-at-home-mom on a VERY tight budget that could make a difference in her day today?" The lady in the next car and I had that long eye contact moment (knowing we were both just watching the lady) where any second someone was going to start talking with our windows rolled up but then she pulled out of her space.
Like I said, I typically do not like to give someone money. I'd rather buy them a cup of coffee if it's really cold out, or I'll give them some food I have in the car. I'll buy someone a hot lunch from a fast food place, I'll give a mom with a baby a few diapers etc. But I just couldn't get over how unclean this lady was and how carefree she seemed about it as she sat there and ate her bag of chips. It seriously looked as if she had some kind of light brown stuff all over her one arm that reminded me way too much of the melted cookie dough baby poop diaper I had just changed before we left the house. I can't IMAGINE it was something as vile as that, but it was SOMETHING...
I decided to give her a package of baby wipes I had in the diaper bag as well as a smaller pack of anti-bacterial hand wipes I had in my purse. Both had already been opened, but I figured it was better than nothing. I only had $20 left of my weekly budget for groceries and we needed milk and eggs and some other stuff for dinner tonight so, I wasn't going to give her cash, but I felt this pull deep down to give her something as opposed to just going into the store to do my shopping. When I feel that pull I don't ignore it because I feel that it's speaking to me for a reason so I try to answer it. Someday I might need someone to answer that "pull" for me.
When I walked up to her and said, "excuse me ma'am?" and she whipped her head around so fast I felt bad about only giving her baby wipes. "Would you like some baby wipes?" and she said as the anticipation of receiving some cash ran from her face, "yea...OK" and took them and instantly stashed them under her lap I'm assuming because I never saw them again. It kind of makes me laugh in a way typing it now because here I am racking my brain for a while in my car trying to think of something meaningful and useful I could give her while my kids are starting to go stir crazy because we are just sitting in a parked car not getting out. Here I am thinking I'm doing some great thing to help this lady possibly clean some part of her body at some point or "wash" her hands with the anti-bacterial wipes and that "she'll feel so grateful to be able to do that" (projecting in my brain) and in reality she was probably thinking, "what the hell am I going to do with baby wipes lady?"
But I know she'll use them at some point and hopefully she'll be glad she has them. Being a women myself and having to deal with the things women deal with about every 28 days or so I just can't figure out how how a woman can stand living in her own filth. Even if you are not all there mentally. It just baffles me and makes me incredibly fortunate to have what I have and to live where we live and to have such a strong support system of family. Where is this woman's family? At some point she had a mother who carried her in her belly for 9 months and rubbed it when she kicked and who (hopefully) held her lovingly in her arms and kissed the top of her head after she gave her a bath. Someone loved this woman at some point in her life. Where are those people now and more importantly, why doesn't this woman love herself enough to get help to get off the streets?
Everyone deserves to be clean. It's just the decent thing to do for another human being.
I've decided to put together some "Clean Kits" from stuff I can get at the Dollar Store since like I said, we are on a very tight budget being on one income and having two kids and a ridiculously high monthly medical insurance payment among other monthly bills. But I can swing putting together a $5 or so "Clean Kit" as many times a month as I can that can have baby wipes, a tooth brush and tooth paste, some soap and shampoo, maybe a razor, reusable wash cloth and some toilet paper or kleenex or something. I'll have to check it out and see what I can put together. Put it in a little bag and have a little snack or something to go along with it (non perishable) that I can just keep in my car to have ready to go when I see someone who really needs it. I'm sure they can find someplace to wash their face and brush their teeth and if they are lucky maybe even wash their hair.
I used to know a homeless Vietnam Vet who was never the same when he came back from the war and he lived on the beach in San Clemente and he'd shower in the beach showers sometimes when the beach wasn't very busy and he wouldn't get run out of there. He was a nice guy. I never understood a word he said because it was all mumbles but he also NEVER once asked anyone for money or anything and was incredibly grateful when you gave him food. I used to feed him every day I saw him when I worked at the little beach diner down at the pier. (Shhh...don't tell the terrible bitch with a "w" who owned the place that I was shelling out free food to this guy! The same guy she used to run off like he was a loose chicken wandering around the garbage cans) My favorite cook and I had a secret code that the ticket was for "our guy" and we'd hook him up every chance we got and I threw in muffins and stuff for him to eat later. He would INHALE his food and one time he even left me a tip. It was 7 cents. I totally teared up and had to take a moment to compose myself before returning to my other tables when I saw it on the table after he left. It made a deep impact on me to get this 7 cent tip from someone who had nothing. Despite the fact he was living on one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California and had the best ocean front view out of anyone! All kidding aside, he still had nothing. But if you are going to be homeless, San Clemente beach side would be my first pick for sure!
...anyway, I feel that everyone deserves to be clean and warm. I feel like I can endure a heck of a lot as a human being when I'm clean, warm and not totally hungry. So with that said I'm going to put together some "Clean Kits" to have on hand and I'll take pics of the stuff I get and post a "Kit List"on here too. If you have any other ideas of stuff I can put in there that might be helpful please let me know...