Today I passed a girl living on the streets in Times Square, she couldn’t have been more than 25. Her cardboard sign said “Nice kid, bad luck,” and she could have been cute if her skin hadn’t been ravaged by drugs and years of bad decisions. I smiled at her, she smiled back. I kept on walking without donating anything, but I felt bad about it.
Less than two minutes later I walked by another homeless girl, this one holding a sign that said “Nice girl, got into trouble.” I kept walking without looking twice. She wasn’t nearly as cute.
I used to notice them every day when I first moved to NYC; I was even doing a project where I’d give a dollar to a different homeless person each day to try and alleviate the guilt as economically as possible. Today, I barely notice them.
After walking past the two women I went into a Starbucks for green tea and writing. A man walked in carrying a plastic bag full of trash. He asked the clerk to use the bathroom. The guy behind the counter said he could, and the plastic bag man walked around the restaurant asking everyone if they would watch his bag while he was in the bathroom. They kicked him out of the building.
That’s the kind of homeless person you can’t ignore – the crazy ones, the ones that aren’t drug addicts, but are so far removed from reality that it’s even worse.
That isn’t the type of homeless person I want to be.
Neville Medhora did an experiment a few years ago where he slept on the street for five days in Austin, living the life of a homeless guy. After reading that post I wrote “sleep on the street” on my bucket list. Today I put it on my calendar.
I’m going to spend one night on the streets of New York, living the life of a homeless person. Am I scared? In the words of Will Smith in his worst movie yet, “fear is a choice.” So, no, but I know I won’t be sleeping on the streets of Harlem because “danger is very real.”
Maybe living on the street for a day will finally cure me of this curiosity toward the homeless.