A few months ago, I was staying at my grandmother’s house in North Carolina. She was looking to get rid of some books, and gave a ton to my mom and I to take home. One in particular caught my eye, and I picked it up right away. I ended up finishing The Street Lawyer by John Grisham in less than one day – having no idea that it would change my life. The story opened with the scene of a homeless man who broke into a large corporate law firm and held several attorneys hostage while he demanded justice, then eventually killed himself. Throughout the rest of the book, the reader was taken through the journey of a young attorney’s quest to figure out why that homeless man chose his specific law firm, and what motivated him to commit suicide. He ended up leaving his lavish lifestyle the firm provided him to become a ‘street lawyer,’ which is essentially an attorney who works without compensation for homeless people and panhandlers who have legal business they need taken care of.
This book really opened my eyes about the homeless population, because it gave a lot of detail about the struggles they go through on a daily basis – like being separated from their families, being abused on the streets, constantly being put down and shamed, being relocated by a process called ‘sweeping’ (where cities forcibly remove homeless people from certain territories within their city limits), and more. After reading this, I swore to myself that I would never simply walk by a homeless person again, and I haven’t.
This summer, as some of you may know, I spent my weeks commuting into Boston and working at my firm’s office there. Every day, I would see at least five homeless people. The one man that stuck out to me – likely because he sat in the same spot every single day, telling jokes to anyone and everyone who would listen – was Joe. He sits on a corner right near South Station with a yellow and orange vest and a sign that reads please help, pennies are accepted, thank you, God bless. The first few times I saw him, I would stop and give him a dollar, or a few quarters, or my extra granola bar. As the weeks went on, I got to know him pretty well. Towards the end of the summer, I was invited to write for The Odyssey, and decided that I felt comfortable enough to ask Joe for an interview to write an article about. I’m always curious about how people end up panhandling for a living, and I was hoping he would shed some light on the homeless population for me to express to the people I know who shame them.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the population assumes that homeless people are drunks, or drug addicts, or something worse. I don’t normally like to discuss my opinion about this topic with anyone, because I know that if I say anything, I’ll immediately be shut down and dismissed. But the same people who are judging the homeless population are also the people who are preaching the golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated, and that doesn’t sit right with me. How would you like it if someone looked at you, automatically assumed the worst, dismissed your presence as a human being, ignored you, and talked about how disgusting you were? Yeah, you wouldn’t. So what makes it okay for you to act this way about someone who has been forced to take to the streets to survive? You have a job, and you were blessed with positive life chances, so you’re automatically more valuable as a human? I don’t think so.
To read about the full interview I had with Joe, look out for my Odyssey article that will be published within the next few weeks!
Thanks for reading! XO