The Social Encounter: the space between may separate us, but is what undoubtedly connects us all.
The word “homeless” is based on a judgment that reflects on the lack of architecture, of shelter, a person has, which leads to a solution that fulfills just that. However, there is yet another deficiency that is often overlooked, ignored and left undone which is the relationship between the poor and those that are not poor. This large gap between the two parties, not in terms of societal structure, but rather in the space for interaction that is needed in order to effectively help someone in need, remains a void that is one of the loudest aspects of the city. It screams when we walk past a homeless person and understand our differences, creating a noticeable divide. For a brief moment, it instills anxiety and fear into our minds as we meditate on whether this person is a drug addict, thief or mentally unstable. The following is an encounter that began a series of personal research.
I will just sit with my hand out. A simple act, passive in the sense that I am not staring, speaking or acknowledging anyone that walks by, but aggressive in the sense that I am alluding to people giving me money. I rode around looking for the best place to act like a beggar or maybe, avoiding actually going through with it. As I approached a spot, I saw a homeless man out of the corner of my eye. From far away it looked like he was fixing his knee brace insistently, but then I realized he kept pulling his socks up and muttering something to himself. In my mind, I was here for people like him and felt I should speak to him. I walked down the road and as I came closer, I started to think what I was going to say. “Hi, can I speak to you for a moment,” or “My name is Rebecca, what is yours?” Nothing seemed right. Soon enough, I was in front of him and froze. I looked into his eyes and then kept walking. The few moments that we had made eye contact, it cued him to ask for help, or money, I am not sure because I was so afraid and uncomfortable I focused on walking away. I understand why people do not help men like him. It is uncomfortable and I have only ever been on the side of the person standing up and looking down. I cannot relate to him. I circled the block once more and sat down on the sidewalk.
Similar to society’s tier of class systems, there are tiers of homelessness. One of these sub-groups is referred to as the Street Homeless. They may reside on sidewalks, alleyways, benches, subways, etc. and consider their most permanent address to be the one that exists in their minds.
I walked back to the corner of the park and approached the man lounging on the sidewalk. As I came closer and closer, I realized the frightened, tensed-up nerves I was used to in situations like this, only came as a dull tug. “Hey man, you want some food?” He said yes and stood up at the same time. His name is Sean. We walked to the food truck located on the corner of 18th and Walnut. He ordered a tuna sandwich with American cheese and a can of Pepsi. The man cooking the food recognized my order but seemed to overlook Sean’s. I reminded him about the tuna sandwich and he asked, “Is he with you?” Yes. He is. We got our sandwiches and I asked Sean where he wanted to eat. He responded, “In the park.” We sat on a bench on the east side of the circle and ate lunch together. I asked if he’s seen the people in the park before and he said, “Oh yea, all the time.” It was then I realized that people in Sean’s situation, other homeless people, have more of a presence than I had previously determined. Passersby are a part of his day just as much as he is a part of their day. We mostly sat and ate our food. I let him know that it was going to snow tomorrow and he said, “I’ll figure something out.” We finished our meals and I thanked him for eating lunch with me before I left. He said, “You’re welcome.”
Shared spaces in the city are opportunities for interaction, connectivity and change. It is in these places, such as parks, subways, plazas we see the city’s finest and the city’s lowliest. Social interactions allow for individuals or small groups to give and take, contribute and gain. There is a level of connectivity that comes through dialogue and social interaction that strengthens groups and sub-groups because of this new bond they have to the other. Through the shared spaces in the city, it gives hope to the social encounter and the transferring of resources to the people who need it.
posted by Rebecca Kidd