Walking downtown is a favorite activity, if I have the time, and especially in the South Park Blocks or the North Park Blocks areas of the western side of the center city, Portland. In the North Park Blocks, which is near the fashionable Pearl district, one can be regularly confronted by people who are homeless. On any given day or night there are over 4,000 homeless individuals in & around Portland, many of these individuals are in the downtown area (these statistics are recent official postings & it might be interesting to check out these demographics for one’s own community). There are different demographic breakdowns but what I have noticed is three distinct groupings. Homeless young people, who seem to travel in large groups; chronic homeless men and women, mostly men; and homeless families with children.
Because you can be approached multiple times, in some areas within your community, everyone has to make a decision about panhandling requests for money. It seems more reasonable and effective, to me, to make contributions directly to organizations committed to the homeless, civic or religious, instead of directly to an individual. My rationale is that these organizations provide a variety of services directly and usually effectively to the homeless, day in and day out.
Ironically homelessness can potentially create sense of interconnectedness if we imagine that these individuals are actually members of our own families with whom we have lost contact or perhaps we have forgotten.
I am reminded of dream I had a few years ago that illustrated our oblique connectedness with strangers. In the dream I was having a conversation with my mother (she was actually no longer alive at that time period). I had conveyed to her a story about an encounter in a bad neighborhood in the north side of the city of St. Louis. I had stopped my car, because I was lost, to stretch my legs and to get my bearings. A rough & tattered man approached me to demand money. I felt threatened so I gave him my wallet. He removed the money while he also perused my identification in a most curious manner (all of this, I am relating to my mother in a dream setting). He returned the moneyless wallet and then proceeded to give me directions out of the neighborhood. My mother, in the dream conversation, responded by asking me for a description of the man and I returned a thorough description to her. And she said, ‘That depiction matches the physical description of one of our relatives, your cousin Albert.’ My mother pauses for a moment and then she adds, ‘So how is he?’