A Street Light shines brightly, illuminating the world around them.
I chose the name StreetLights because of all the people I have met that have a story to tell, a story of hope, of struggle, success, tragedy and everything in between. Each one of these people are lights on the street full of hope, inspiration, and compassion.
A Phoenix Street Light is the guy on the corner with a sign, the woman sleeping in a tent on the sidewalk, and the kid at the gas station asking for change. It’s a couple of people sleeping at the park, the artist selling their work at the intersection, the bearded guy walking down the sidewalk in dirty clothes and that water chick who trades water for donations, or the family sleeping in their car and showering at your gym. It could also be your co-worker or you.
The most generous people are the ones who have so little to offer, they give with their spirit and compassion and even money. I was inspired by a man I met a few years ago who reminded me that everyone has a story to tell and I had the intellectual assets and capability to corral resources to publish some of them.
Here is the story of a short interaction with a stranger that would be the catalyst for the next chapter of my life. A life where my experience with homelessness, mental health symptoms, and extreme poverty turned to a life as an advocate, peer support, outreach volunteer, activist, recovery coach.
When I was housed and employed, I was an active community member. I participated in business and political circles and I was a snob. I would look at people on the streets with judgment. I would ask myself questions like “Why can’t they just get a job like me?” or “Why should I have to work and they don’t?” “Must be nice to sit around all day and relax?”
I did not see the value they were adding to the greater good. It would bother me a little that seemingly capable people would beg for money while playing on their smartphones or go through trash cans for food or recyclables and be drinking a beer. I never once thought about what they had to live through and I certainly didn’t think they used to be just like me or better.
Once I spent some time on the beach in Oceanside, I met people who completely changed my mind. My boyfriend used to tell me about going to meet with his psychiatrist, a certain man down at the beach that we saw every day at sunset. I never believed him. I assumed my boyfriend just meant a friend that he talked to like a doctor.
Then I actually met Bruce one day. We talked about our former careers. He a former psychiatrist and I was a Newspaper gal. I had only ever known him as that guy who stands on the rocks by the Lifeguard tower every day. He could be seen at various times throughout the day but always at sunset in any sort of weather.
He wears a black wool trench coat and lets the waves crash on him. He wears the same coat every day. He says the water just rolls off his coat and he doesn’t really get very wet, except his shoes. I assumed, like many, that he was “showering” or something else related to being homeless.
He sat down with me one day while I was painting at the beach and inquired about my artwork. He stopped to say hello often and chit-chat. One day he told me the story, he told me about his wife and how he loved her so. He told me she had died 8 years earlier. He told me he was so distraught and unable to go on without her, that he had lost his job. He told me about the condo they shared right down the beach. He told me their unit didn’t face the ocean. He told me he walked down the beach with her every day when he got home from work.
Now, he goes to the rocks every day because that was her favorite place to sit and watch the sunset. He was waiting for her to come and get him.
He is not suicidal but has no desire to go on living without her. He has no desire to hurt himself or end his life, he just doesn’t want to live in this world anymore without her. He had lost his son years ago and has no other family.
“He would often put money under one of my painted rocks when I wasn’t looking, knowing I would never accept it without giving him yet another rock to take home. I imagine there is a large pile of my painted rocks in front of his home today.”
We would talk for hours, a few times a week while I was painting and making art. We talked about DBT Therapy, the science of the mind, grief, local government, current issues, global warming and a wide range of other topics. I truly enjoyed Bruce’s company and his input as a former Doctor. I was suffering with mental health symptoms, misdiagnosed and on the wrong medication. I was homeless but I wasn’t on the streets yet, I was living in my converted school bus. Bruce offered to let me stay in his home if I needed a place to go. I declined, but truly appreciated the offer. He would often put a little money under one of my painted rocks when I wasn’t looking, knowing I would never accept it without giving him yet another rock to take home. I imagine there is a large pile of my painted rocks in front of his home today.
It was the awareness that I had poorly misjudged this man without ever knowing anything about him that deeply impacted my mindfulness today. My assumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. My thoughts so ugly in comparison to the kind, generous, non-judgmental and accepting soul that he is. This is what brought the first concept of a StreetLight.
I did some sleuthing and was able to confirm his former job, homeownership, and even where he went to school. I was so surprised that I was so far off in my judgement. I catch my tendency to pre-judge a situation or person now and I remind myself the following:
It is a pattern of behavior over a period of time that a person’s character should be judged. We should never judge a person as good or bad but to accept them as they are. That is the goal of humanity. One event, one horrible day, or one great apology does not determine a persons character. That, is only revealed with time, observation and awareness – This includes judging your own character.Kymberley’s Amazing Mind! 🙂
I met others like Bruce who surprised my assumptions and preconceived notions. Not all street (or Beach) dwellers are junkies and bums. In fact, none of them are, even if they are on the streets through their own actions while feeding a drug habit with crime every day. Because even those people are someone’s child, mother, brother, father, or sister, and they are worthy.
Most of those people on the streets used to be something and someone else. They have undergone some sort of trauma. Something or someone caused them to throw away their former life. Even more so, people are on the streets because something happened TO them that they just could not handle for whatever reason(s). The went over the cliff and had no safety net to catch them on their way down.
Lisa Glow, CEO of C.A.S.S. (the largest shelter and integrated service center in Phoenix ) said recently in an interview on the local NPR station,
“Homelessness is not a housing problem, it is a Humanitarian Problem. These people, including our senior citizens, have fallen through a crack in the system and we have no safety net for them.”Lisa Glow, CEO C.A.S.S.
Many believe it is the responsibility of Humanity to care for those who can not care for themselves, regardless of time period. We need a safety stronghold. One with no holes to fall through, but to be a sanctuary from trauma and tragedy when life becomes too much to handle. Remember, most of the homeless had something, or a series of somethings in a short period of time, happen TO them.
Even if their current situation was caused by a series of bad choices, their humanity alone deserves compassion. We need only realize that we too, the housed, employed and financially stable, are only a perfect storm of crises away from suffering a similar fate. Maybe then will we look at those we pass by with empathy, compassion, and love.
It was listening to stories like Bruce’s that provided the passion to tell the community at large. Maybe a few people would pick up a copy to read at a coffee shop, or while waiting in line somewhere. By spending 5 minutes to read these stories of hope and inspiration, they might be compelled to change their perception. I have dreams of more positive engagements with the housed and unhoused in the community.
It is my hope that when more people operate from a place of love, acceptance, and compassion, that society will begin to tackle the problem of homelessness.
The Street Fairy
This story and many others like it will be published in the Monthly print edition of the Phoenix StreetLights StreetPaper, a community newspaper by, for and about homelessness. Founded 11/2019 by Kymberley Page. Click here to learn “What is a StreetPaper“