Photo by PoPville flickr user Chris Williams
On Monday around 9 a.m., while walking up the block to my office, I watched a nearby business open their door and swish a bucketful of water onto the sidewalk. No big deal…except that a few feet down the slight grade on the sidewalk were two homeless people who are always there. The water ran down the sidewalk to them, soaking their blankets and belongings as they sat there.
For a moment I was confused. The sidewalks were wet from the rain, so why the bucketful of water? Did I really just witness a business intentionally harassing or trying to shoo away homeless people?
When I stopped a few steps past the scene to look back, a man passing e remarked how he’d seen the business sweeping the sidewalk but that they should have the decency not to do that with the water. I said I’d contact the business but I had a nagging feeling I should’ve done something in the moment.
I went to the business a few hours later to speak with the owners, but they were in meetings, so I emailed. The owner wrote back to tell me that when the store is closed, this group of 2-3 will move into the alcoves at the store’s entrance, and when employees come to open it up, they will find that they have defecated there. The smell, he mentioned, has been a problem even inside of the business. Employees who open up the morning have to clean up after them and wash down the entrance/sidewalk, which is what I’d seen. They’d told the two homeless people sitting there that they were going to wash down the entrance and the sidewalk before they did it.
I don’t really have a solution I can come up with, because the business owner also said that homeless services had asked the people to come to a shelter, but they refused to leave their spot. It’s a very unfortunate situation for both the business and the homeless people.
I’m sensitive to social justice issues, but realized through this that my own tendency to jump to conclusions can get in the way. I ended up feeling grateful I didn’t react in the moment but waited to organize my thoughts. So I guess this is mostly a public service announcement to start by calmly and respectfully asking questions before you make up your mind. I still wish there was something I could do to help this situation, but the best I can think of is to write to you and share it. Thanks.”