Thanks to COVID-19, the majority of the USA is getting a sense of everyday life for the homeless.
Over the past weeks, I have watched people scurry about to find groceries, avoid each other on the sidewalk, and be instructed to stay where they live and not socialize.
Seeing this I can’t help but think to myself, “now the general population is getting a taste of what we, the homeless, face everyday.”
During this Coronavirus pandemic, housed people are waiting in long lines at grocery stores for whatever food that may be available with no guarantees that there will be anything left once they get to the front of the line. In some cases they are allotted a specific amount of food, one gallon of milk, two loaves of bread, three gallons of water, etc.
In this short period of time the general public has gone from having a large variety of food to choose from to taking anything available in order to survive. People are minimizing the amounts of food they consume, no scraps to be thrown away. People are unable to eat at restaurants, delis, or coffee shops as well.
For the first time, many have also experienced restrictions in traveling about the city. In some places there are even citywide curfews, and if you’re found to be out past a certain time you are given a warning and or a citation and forced to leave the area immediately. The phrases “go anywhere but here,” and “where do I go?” will start having a new meaning for the general population.
And I suspect people everywhere are learning what it feels like to be avoided when walking down the sidewalk. People step as far out of the way as possible, and are scared to engage in a conversation with you out of fear for their own well being.
I would hope by now you are starting to have a real sense of how quickly life can change regardless of your position in society.
However, this is just a portion of the challenges faced by individuals living on the streets, especially during this Coronavirus pandemic. And although the threat of contracting the virus is of great concern for the housed, how much more so for those of us living outside ?
I suspect people everywhere are learning what it feels like to be avoided when walking down the sidewalk.
We have no home to stay in, no TV to watch. We can’t use the computer, go to the fridge, or check the pantry for comfort food. We have no money for health insurance. Nor are there air filtration masks or latex gloves available for us. No, instead we have a piece of cardboard, a sleeping bag, an alleyway, a storefront, or a safe hiding spot to stay in. For a lucky few there is a tent, an encampment, or a shelter bed.
The homeless individuals that formally earned money on the streets by selling handmade jewelry, patches, Street Spirit newspapers or picking up trash with Downtown Streets Team are now without any source of income.
Before this worldwide Coronavirus pandemic erupted, there were a number of organizations feeding the homeless. There were food pantries, and individuals who gave out donations of canned goods or leftovers from catered parties. Now, very few are donating and or throwing away food, and rightly so. Families must take care of their own first and foremost.
Now we sit on empty streets or congregate with other homeless people in hopes of getting a little food, maybe a can of tuna or a pack of ramen noodles, all the while increasing our chances of becoming infected with the Coronavirus. Now that many of the organizations that feed the homeless have become scarce to non-existent, even dumpster diving is pointless during this pandemic. What are we to do?
This all adds to the overwhelming pressure on a life that is already sought with trials and tribulations most will never know.
Yes, the Coronavirus is giving the general population some understanding of what the homeless individuals face every day. Where is the concern for the ever-present and continuing epidemic called homelessness? Unfortunately, I have found that if an issue doesn’t affect an individual personally, there is very little real concern.
Timothy Busby is a homeless writer who lives in Berkeley. He writes from his past five years of experiences while living on the streets from New Orleans to Berkeley, and many cities in between.