rn: Conversation with one of DC’s homeless


Jan Slakov

From: "Carolyn Ballard" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Feature:  Word Count 883
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2000 19:13:21 -0700

A Conversation with One of DC's Homeless: The Wisdom of the Common Man

While waiting outside the hostel for my reservations to get straightened
out, I was approached by one of DC's homeless who was panhandling for spare
change to buy a meal. Unlike many of the city's homeless, Anthony, an
African-American male of 40-something, didn't have the attitude of one who
had completely given up. He impressed me with his sense of pride and a
street-wise understanding of how the system works. Rejecting the cynical
attitude that this was just another savvy hustler, I dug in my pockets for
all my coins and handed them over to Anthony. 

The next morning as I was standing on the sidewalk perusing the area for a
source of coffee, Anthony came ambling down the street towards me. We began
talking like old friends, and he gave me directions to a nearby pancake
house and a McDonald's. Astutely observing that I was not a fully awake and
functioning individual, Anthony kindly offered to accompany me to
McDonald's, the closest coffee outlet. Returning the favor, I bought coffee
for both of us, and we walked back to the hostel in conversation about the
demonstration that was occurring that weekend. We were soon joined by the
friend who accompanied me. The following is an excerpt of our conversation.

ANTHONY: I appreciate what you all are doing. But you know, the big
corporations with all that money, they're just sitting back laughing. And
you know why? Because when all this is over, it's gonna get quiet, and it's
just gonna go back to the same way it was. The only way you're gonna hurt
these big corporations is to hit them where it hurts - in their pockets. I'm
not putting you down, but I just wish you could find another way to hurt them.

FRIEND: We've got to get the word out to enough people, so that they know
what's happening.

ME: Part of the reason we're here, Anthony, is to get media attention, so
that people will understand what's happening. A lot of people understand
what's wrong, but they have jobs, they have cars, they have mortgages, they
have families and a way of life that they're trying to protect, and they're
not gonna be out here doing what we're doing.

ANTHONY: Yeah, they're scared. One thing you got to realize is that you got
people in office that ain't never had to worry about nothin', and they're
sitting up there telling you that they're gonna do this and they're gonna do
that and make it better, and they don't do nothin'. One thing about voting
for somebody . they will promise you the world, and once they get in office,
they don't do shit. Right?

ME: That's right. The only thing they're going to do is return those favors.

ANTHONY: That's why these big corporations are getting over because they're
funding these people that get in office. And you know they're funding the
ones that they want to get in there. They know they can use them and delay
all this stuff and keep it hush, hush, hush. Instead of voting to stop
something, they'll put that bill in and keep passing it back and forth until
people get tired.

ME: What do you want out of life, Anthony?

ANTHONY: I just want to be happy, be loved, go to church . You know, the
white  picket fence, the house. I just want a little piece of the apple pie.
That's all. I don't want the whole thing. I just want to be happy.

ME: Don't you think that's what most people want?

ANTHONY: Yeah, but you're not gonna find a lot of people that feel that way
in Washington. A lot of people have given up.

ME: Why do you think most of these homeless people ended up on the streets?
Was it drugs, alcohol, what?

ANTHONY: No, I think that most of the people just gave up on themselves.

FRIEND: So you think they just got to the place where they felt they
couldn't make it. One of the interesting things I noticed last night was all
the homeless people sleeping in front of the Bank of America. Is there a
reason for that?

ANTHONY: I'd say it's because they've got vents that blow heat up from the
subways. Did you know in Germany there's no homeless people on the streets?
Taxes are high, but they don't have homeless.

FRIEND: Do the churches do a lot of outreach to the homeless?

ANTHONY: Let me answer that question very delicately. Most of these churches
in Washington, DC, know that all these churches put together could buy one
of these buildings and let some of these people get off the street. But all
these churches, they're all about money. They don't care about these people,
and I know they don't. They might once in a while, on a Thursday, have a
little come-over and feed them from 12 o'clock to 1:30. They don't really
care about these people. You know, for me to have been in this city for 40
years . I see too much, and there ain't nothin' I can do about it. I'd love
to get out of this city.

                 (c) Carolyn Ballard (2000)
                - Republication permission granted for
                 non-commercial and small-press use under "fair use"