I’ve developed a habit of picking up trash in the area surrounding my house as a cool-down after I run. The house is adjacent to the fairgrounds and a public bike path. Between the bike path and the house is a stand of large trees that transients camp in overnight. So, there is always trash. And it is typically unpleasant–soiled food containers at best, dirty needles at the worst.
During my rounds one morning I grumbled to myself about the useless, burdensome homeless that inhabit the neighborhood. I wouldn’t care, I thought, if they just cleaned up after themselves. Why only clean up after themselves, though? They’re not doing anything else; why can’t they keep this area clean?
My thoughts then turned more introspective. How would I approach life if I was homeless? I pondered. After all, I’m not all that far from it.
Were I to find myself living on the street, I would not spend my days idly holding a sign begging for money, my nights making a mess of parks and neighborhoods. In fact, I would do exactly what I was doing that morning. My days would be spent wandering the town picking up trash as I went. I would solicit businesses or houses for trash bags. I would be a one-man beautification service. I would build the area up rather than bring it down.
Maybe I would make a sign that I could wear across my back.
I’m keeping Eugene clean. Your support helps.
People would welcome me rather than spurn me. I could even become a known element of the area. “Oh, that’s just Ryan. He’s homeless, but he never begs. He just wanders around picking up trash. We like having him around.”
Plus, you know what, by not begging but still contributing to society in some small way, people would be generous to me. I bet I would earn just as much money as the sign holders. Even more, certainly. From there it is simple economics. I will have invented a process more productive than the traditional transient’s approach. In order to compete, the other bums would have to adopt a similar strategy. Pretty soon the whole prospect of the transient lifestyle will have changed. Rather than a class of people parasitically living off of the goodwill of society, a new group would emerge that still survives off of the charity and support of their neighbors, but they earn it.
In fact, this new under-class would in many ways be a socialist society existing within the larger capitalist world around it.
Then we’d rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie! Kidding. Maybe.
Anyway, that is what I would do if all of my other options suddenly become nonviable. And it all starts with maintaining a considerate attitude. I think the issue is just that most of the homeless and vocationally transient are not considerate people to begin with.
Most of the transients in this area have not lost everything. They are attracted to all of the social services that the caring, good-natured people here want to provide for their struggling neighbors. So a change is needed. I’ll continue to pick up after them, but maybe one day I won’t have to.
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