By Dave Patterson / Vets for Peace
On a cold night in January I joined Stan Levin and Gil Field delivering sleeping bags to the San Diego homeless, what we call the compassion campaign. Dealing directly with the homeless is painful because there they are in our faces with their cold, hunger and suffering laid bare. What’s surprising is the number of people with just a thin blanket that will decline a sleeping bag because others nearby need it more. How ironic that people with nothing can have more compassion than those of us with plenty.
One man was sitting on the steps with no jacket, no bedding, nothing but a small bag. He said he had just been released from the hospital where he was treated for food poisoning, and when he returned to the street his stuff was gone. Stuff in this case is all one’s personal belongings, including clothing to keep him warm and dry. Another man with just his clothes on his back was just in from Michigan. I hear that some municipalities in cold places like Michigan will give their homeless bus tickets to warmer places because they have no way to care for them, and they will certainly die on those cold streets. More frightening is the number of women camped on the street, surrounded by insane people and frequently abused.
The disparity between the haves and the have-nots is always on display that night. One trendy venue had a cool porch with space heaters where the revelers overlooked a nice city park. The place was full of young people having fun and I thought to myself how pleasant it would be to join in if I were younger. Around the park, however, were rows of homeless living in makeshift tents or sleeping on cold concrete with nothing to cover them. Those within could see the homeless, and those without could hear and see others enjoying the good life. I’ve taught myself not to assign blame for such circumstances, but still, the stark disparity is depressing.
When I got home I poured myself a glass of wine, sliced myself some cheese and settled in when it hit me that I wasn’t far removed from those at the trendy bar overlooking the hapless. I have food and drink and a warm comfortable home to relax in, while our homeless suffer in the cold. I come away from this knowing that if we could muster the collective resolve, we can solve this serious problem of homelessness. The Dalai Lama was right when he said that compassion is the radicalism of our time.