Alex Hughes — July, 2019…After riding the bus for the past four years consistently, I can say that I have seen my fair share of homeless people. You see them on the Sprinter with personal shopping carts brimming with trash and personal belongings and sometimes smell the odor that wafts through the car. You may notice the encampments that litter the train tracks on your way to Oceanside where bushes become makeshift homes. At some point, you may even find yourself in conversation with one of them, and that is when you start to paint a picture of how they got to be where they are.
I did try and set an intention to speak to more of these folks as I wanted to know more about their backgrounds and to be more empathetic with their plight. I might have an idea of how I could uplift them out of poverty and their current situation. It seems that out of luck I was able to engage with a few when the situation was right. I did not emphasize their homeless situation but rather found topics of common ground such as their schooling or career goals being that I am in college. I sometimes brought up hobbies which we may have shared.
I was able to meet with one man after one of the very long city council meetings right outside of 99 Cents Only on East Vista Way. As conversations do, it began with an observation and then more curiosities were addressed. I found myself learning more about this man such as where he lived and where he had worked. The surprise was that he lived under a local highway. However, that did not end the conversation as I found that he offered more than his background but an intriguing story that I could learn from. We parted ways as I got off on Gopher Canyon.
Another woman, I met while I was waiting for the 101 in Carlsbad. It was just after I had gotten off from work and found myself waiting for a late bus. That appeared to happen towards the end of the week on Thursdays and Fridays. This older woman in her 60’s or 70’s was also sitting on a bench next to me as I stood. She gave me a compliment on what I was wearing, and somehow we begin to discuss her history from being in Korea as her father was in the military to becoming homeless not too long ago. She found it hard to gain housing; however, through Interfaith was able to pick herself up and search for work. She told me she was going to work as a security guard in Coachella where she would be able to watch the bands while earning decent pay.
Even when I did not strike up a conversation, I noticed their presence wherever I went whether in Downtown San Diego where many were or here in North County. It was certainly a surprise to see the conditions that they were in. I have waved before and nodded my head in their direction. I even remember asking for directions in San Diego because I know they are experts of the streets and the buildings because that is where they live. I’ll be honest that I do still feel a sense of aversion considering that there are some who panhandle or have stolen property in their possession as seen with shopping carts.
After going to Los Angeles for a tourist visit via the Metrolink, I saw how awful the situation has gotten especially entering into Los Angeles County. You can see homeless tents behind business parks and along large concrete water ways. Trash surrounds these living conditions and graffiti is not far behind. In Downtown L.A., the problem magnifies as across from Union Station, you can see people sleeping on the grass and encampments in Father Serra Park. It is one of the first things you may notice as you step out. In addition, over the Highway 101 overpass, you start to see huge amounts of garbage that encompass a wide variety of objects from wrappers to home items. It was as if a garbage truck dumped a load on the sidewalk. Behind this or among this are people who live in these squalid conditions. I saw this with my sister and was deeply affected as I knew that these were fellow human beings who lived like animals. When I came back to San Diego County, I was grateful of where I lived and was glad that the conditions have not gotten to that level. Travel has only enticed my curiosity to help these homeless people by trying to uplift them and give them an ear when most would talk to the hand.