I see this woman on a regular basis when the weather is warmer. This ledge, though exposed to the elements, concrete, and undoubtedly uncomfortable, is in a safer part of town. The people walking by are a lot like me: professional, educated, non-violent. Unlike me, a lot of the passers-by have serious money, and have more to fear from her than she does from them.
That’s why she chooses this ledge. Because, to her, it is safe. It is as safe as you can get as a homeless woman in this town, but even this ledge is not safe enough for her to be alone. I have never seen her without a homeless male companion, and often two or three. I have watched long enough, with a criminological eye toward this particular ledge, to say with confidence that she is the common element to the homeless presence here. The men come and go – she is the constant, they are the variables. She brings them here, to her place of safety.
Why bring them at all? You could argue that it is for camaraderie, to get some relief from the relentless sense of invisibility that must surely come from the total inability of other people to meet her eye and acknowledge her presence. Certainly, she belongs to a homeless subculture, and maybe she just likes to participate in that culture with others.
Like so many other homeless women, she appears to be substance-addicted, and mentally ill. As a woman, she is in constant danger of sexual assault, theft, and other crimes. Homeless men, for all of their own troubles with drugs, violence, and mental health, actually offer her something she sees as positive. They may pay for access to her body, give her food, and offer the drugs she surely uses to medicate all her physical and psychological pains. They offer, as well, safety.
Consider that for a moment. From her point of view, a homeless woman is better off in the company of a homeless man she knows than in the company of the masses of bourgeois strangers that see her every day.
I call police when it seems she’s worse than usual. I know they check on her. I have tried offering help in connecting her with homeless services. But she is angry, violent, unpredictable, and lost deep within her addiction and madness.
Her tragedy screams at me from the sidewalk. Puddles of urine and beer seep out from under her sleeping body, filling the humid air with the pungence of her suffering.
- RI considers ‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ (sfgate.com)
- Philadelphia conducts new homeless census (philly.com)
- NFB film tracks ‘radical’ homelessness project (cbc.ca)
- We Can’t Escape the Obvious Fact That Homeless Women and Their Families Make Up Most Homeless People (peoplesadvocacycouncil.wordpress.com)