Alien in America: Plight of the street people

In Columns, Opinion

JG3N0571_alien-in-america

By Isa Ghani

Daily Titan Multimedia Editor

I was on a train when a homeless woman walked on board. She was asking for a couple of dollars for the ride. She looked so sad I would have given her money if I had any.

She was in the middle of what sounded like a sob story, but I don’t speak Spanish so I couldn’t understand her. Everyone in the train car just ignored her. The train left the station, and she was still on, with no ticket.

To me, this scene was strange, and I felt ashamed to be sitting there with my laptop, bottle of Coke and $300 cell phone when this woman just needed a couple of lousy bucks. Sad thing is, I seemed to be the only person on the train who felt this way.

Los Angeles’s homeless population is large. According to the LA Homeless Service Authority, the homeless population of LA on any given day in 2009 is 48,053; that is more than the enrollment of Cal State Fullerton.

But it seems to me like most Americans just walk by homeless people without noticing them.

Don’t believe me? Walk down any major street in LA, be it West Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard or Third Street, and you will come across at least three homeless people. Some carry bags, some trolleys and some just sit with just the clothes on their backs.

Some scare me, like the time on the Santa Monica Pier when I saw a homeless man, complete with cardboard box, cradling something blond in his arms amongst the rags he was wearing.

At first I was startled, thinking, “Good God, this man stole someone’s child!” until I realized it had four legs.

Then I thought, “Oh my God, this man is cradling a dead dog!” until I saw it move. I then let out a huge sigh of relief.

As I walked away, I was shocked that I could even consider it a possibility that a homeless man in Santa Monica, a place frequented by the rich and famous, could possibly be cradling the body of an abducted child.

Yet I seemed to be the only one who gave him a second glance.

There are all sorts of homeless people, or “street people” as I call them, in California. There are the angry types who yell obscenities at passers-by, the crazy types who talk to themselves in alien languages and the pitiful ones who whine for some spare change.

I used to give it to them, until I realized that this only encouraged them. Thus, they would either ask for more or converge on me in greater numbers, not unlike the zombies you see in B-grade horror movies.

Seriously, I actually had a homeless guy bum a cigarette off me, ask for some change and then ask for another cigarette, “for the road.”

But then I feel like a douche for not giving them anything when it looks like they really need it. Take the Carl’s Jr. incident: a disheveled Asian guy walks up to me in a Carl’s Jr. and asks me if I speak Vietnamese.

When I say “no,” he then asks for some change. With another “no,” I send him away, only to realize he is barefoot, muttering to himself in what is presumably Vietnamese, and he looks malnourished.

He then digs around in his pocket, pays for a cheeseburger in pennies and asks for some water. The guy at the counter gave him all of this grudgingly. As he shuffled away with his dirty feet, I cursed myself and my CrissCut Fries.

It makes me wonder, where are these people coming from? Was it some tragedy like an accident or a series of unfortunate events that led them to live out of a stolen shopping cart? Where are their families? Are they there by choice or are they just crazy? I’m tempted to ask sometimes, but I’m too afraid of the answer.

What I do know is that when you have a city like LA, Washington, D.C. or New York, you get the street people. It seems like the bigger the city and the higher its skyscrapers, the larger the slums and the lower the levels people stoop to.

Yes, I’m talking about those poor souls who pick through trash for leftovers and attempt to smoke cigarette butts.

In November, California evicted people from “Tent City,” the biggest homeless encampment to date. Numerous shelters offered housing to these people, but that’s just like taking Claritin for a flu. We’re treating the symptoms, not the disease.

Meanwhile, we have wannabe reality stars crashing White House parties and bank CEOs requesting billions in bailout money. Be ashamed America.

How can we live in such excess and be able to buy family-sized Toblerone chocolates when people are starving? It’s a situation that boggles my mind, and I don’t like it. But I also don’t know what to do about it either.

As I sit in the train I see an uniformed Metrolink security officer with a gun and radio going into the next train car, where the homeless woman went.

I wonder what’s going to happen to her next. Presumably she is going to get kicked out of the train, but we’re miles away from where she got on and miles away from where she wanted to go.

Maybe that’s what being homeless is really about, never really having a place to belong.

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2 commentsOn Alien in America: Plight of the street people

  • Actually, back in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, (and Jakarta), there are a lot of homeless people also. It is just they can’t “show themselves” as in the Los Angeles. This is because usually the so called “city securities” (a.k.a police) “arrested” these homeless people, throw them away outside the city, or just simply kill them and buried them quietly outside the city. So, yes, compared the homeless people in Asia (your home country), the homeless people in Los Angeles have better chance to survive. Maybe before you write about the plight of the street people in Los Angeles, you should look at the same situation in your country first. Unless, of course you close one of your eyes, forget your home country, and live happily ever after in the United States. There is a saying: “Gajah di seberang lautan tampak, kuman di pelupuk mata tak tampak” (You can see the elephant across the sea, but you cannot see the germ on the corner of your eyes).

  • clearly isa is talking about americans, he is in america and writing a column bout whats happening to him in america.
    if none of the homeless people had crossed his sight in malaysia, why should he write about it in the column telling readers about what he did not see?!
    he’s writing about his experience and how he feels about it.
    and you’re telling him to care about the homeless people in malaysia? and that he forgot his home country?
    if you know so much about it, do something about it? cos MAYBE he didn’t.

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