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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Smells on the Minneapolis Street

It’s only June 2, and the chronic homeless are out already in all their unfettered glory, free of their winter coats and unencumbered by societal confines.

I say “already”, but honestly the bulk of them have been here all along. They just look a little different in their summer ensembles. The suitcases, plastic bags, two-wheeled dollies, they’re still here. No shopping carts, though; and isn’t that a homeless mainstay, the shopping cart? Or is that just on TV, like cars squealing on dirt roads?

Do you suppose there is a hierarchy amongst the homeless, that someone with a cart is outranked by someone with a bicycle? That those with nothing but a bag and the clothes on their backs align themselves with people who have access to fishing poles and open, empty houses in neighborhoods where no one will call the police?

A lot of people in Minnesota don't encounter the homeless. They don't work downtown. Or they drive their own cars when they do.

And that brings us to the bus.

The bus is open to all, of course. There’s no membership involved, no bottle to offer for them to open the door, no sexual favors to dole out for a seat. You pays your fare and you rides the bus. It’s transportation for the masses, and this is never more glaringly apparent than when you’re seated next to someone who stinks.

I’m not talking about the high-chemical perfume-y stink of the gal I work with who drenches herself in what is either hairspray or bugspray (although the end result is the same – bug-free helmet-hair). I’m not talking about the baby in need of a change – seriously, who amongst us has not pooped their pants while riding the bus?

Come on! Show of hands!

OK. So that might just be me.

Nevertheless, the stench of the homeless is different.

I sat behind a homeless man on the bus on the way to work today. I’ve seen him before – he was here for the winter. I sat there, marveling at the frown-inducing sourness of him, wondering about where one sleeps when homeless, eats, showers…

Jesus Martha but it made me sad. I wanted to give him something: a new pair of socks, some hand sanitizer, a bath.

He got off downtown on the Light Rail line, heading either to the VA Hospital, the airport, or the Mall of America. I wondered what he thought about, if it was hard to be dirty much of the time or if he was past that. I wondered if he was aware of his bubble of salty staleness.

Summer’s in the air; and not all of it smells like flowers.

29 comments:

IB said...

A friend of mine works at a mission downtown. She asks that we donate personal hygiene items; toothpaste shampoo, etc. So, whenever we're traveling and staying a hotel, the wife and I swipe as many of those little bottles of shampoo and bars of soap we can. Sometimes we'll even steal a box off the maid's cart.

That's how we roll

Pearl said...

IB, it makes sense. I worry about their feet. An old boyfriend's father was a Viet Nam vet, and having had trench foot he was fanatical about his socks and shoes. I wonder about the homeless, how many of them have feet problems...

Not The Rockefellers said...

There seems to be a lot more homeless in my town...
a sad sight...some stats for you the average age of a homeless person is 9, is couldn't believe it because all I ever see are older men, but nationally it is 9 yrs old...40% of the male homeless population are veterans..somethings broken here...and the average life expectancy of a homeless person is 46... they just look older than they are.

Sorry to be a sad sack with my comment. Pearl, you know I love you, but this is a cause close to my heart.

Peace - Rene

darsden said...

awe isn't that sad...breaks my heart when I see families like that. Now having said that I know ONE person that must choose not to bathe and this person just Stanks! It drives me insane I have to be a room away just to speak to them..Notice I am not saying he/she...It's like you have a big home for one person and drive a very expensive car...must I literly give you a bar of soap or something...Well, I just choose not to be around anymore..ewwwwe Some people can't help it, they don't have it available or they just don't have the mind...but this person is neither one there is NO excuse..so NO slack given.

Sweet Cheeks said...

Pearl,

What you are describing here is exactly why I have made it my personal business to care for the window washer man in my town.

Just like your guy with the cardboard banjo.

I wish more people would donate to homeless shelters.

BTW,
I received a postcard in the mail yesterday from Liza.

It was from Hong Kong...What's she up to?

:)

Douglas said...

Buses are the limos for the homeless set. Seriously.

I feel sorry for the tragically homeless. I have always lived in places where the homeless come for the winter. I am not talking about the tragically homeless, of course, but about the willfully homeless, the ones who choose it as a lifestyle. The tragically homeless are stuck pretty much wherever it is they were when the job went away, the meds ran out (not necessarily in that order), and the family tossed them to the wayside. Those are the ones I feel sorry for. Not enough to allow them to take up residence in my spare room, of course, but still.

Sorry, I am wandering aimlessly through my thoughts here and it's not pretty.

Eskimo Bob said...

When I was kickin' it in the NE I got to know several of the homeless. I befriended this couple of guys who essentially had become best friends. One was a huge white guy with white hair and the other was a short minority. . . his exact ethnicity was lost on my because of his lack of any sort of accent.

After giving them sandwiches and fruit we hung around and chatted with them for a bit. That's when the short guy told us the story how him and big whitey became friends.

Apparently it gets rough out there on the streets. Though the big guy could handle himself - he was getting beat up by a group of kids. That's when unknown ethnic man came in and saved the day. They've been friends ever since.

Then the non-discript minority said: Wanna see something? He lifted up his shirt and protruding from under his ribcage is what looks like a can of beans. Apparently he had some sort of cancerous growth and was unable to get it treated even after going to the VA.

I'd visit the buddies every Thursday night bringing some grub and sharing a message. I don't know what happened to those guys. But if you see a really tall white homeless guy with white hair give him a sandwich.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

there are homeless people here in SD too, and I encountered quite a few on the bus when I had no car. I know about the smell you're talking about. Its a close tie feeling sorry for them and trying to hold your breath.

Something Happened Somewhere Turning said...

We have a large population of the homeless in Salt Lake. It kind of reminds me of the DC area. As our children have grown up over the years we've tried to teach them a little about charity, sensitivity and respect; along with a handful of other virtues and manners of behavior. It is not uncommon for us to be stopped at a red light in our car and hear from the backseat our daughters asking if we have a dollar or two that we can give the man on the corner. It is truly a sad plight in this world; one that needs as much attention as health care and hunger.

Aria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aria said...

At least your perfume/bug spray (I always confuse the two) co-worker doesn't ride the bus too... then you'd have sour stinky homeless smell mixed with bug spray smell and I'm pretty sure that combo is fatal.

powdergirl said...

Seriously? You can't exchange sexual favors for bus fare out there? You Minnesotans are a tough crowd!

I actually do what bit I can for our homeless, it's a very sad state of affairs out there.
Mostly we have the self-medicating mentally ill who have been kicked to the curb by our disastrously under-achieving medical system.

@eloh said...

This is a subject of much paranoia. The vast majority of the homeless are ill Military Veterans.

These stories and such can not become public forum, it would not bode well for recruiting purposes.

I was pleased when they changed the slogan...An Army of One...it's much more fitting.

A couple years ago the Army did a mass mailing to all its retirees and offered us a $1,000 a head for anyone we could talk into "signing on".

Sorry Pearl, this subject hits me deep. I'll get off my soap box.

mrwriteon said...

Your tale of the stency reminded me of the revolting odor of junkies coming off dope from when I worked at a rehab. There is nothing quite like it -- blessedly. But, maybe the homeless folk, too.

As for pooping your pants on the bus, all I can say is why not?

mrwriteon said...

That was supposed to be 'stench'. I am not sure what 'stency' means, but it might be a useful term sometime. "You are looking particularly stency today, Miss Jones."

Warty Mammal said...

It's the stench of sadness.

Good reminder to donate x% of my mad money to charities again.

lizspin said...

I encounter quite a few of these folks in my job and I always wonder how they manage to somehow stay healthy despite their lack of hygiene. . .

Could it be the "pound of dirt before you die" theory???

mapstew said...

My late auntie 'Dodo' was a real eccentric, and well known in our town, almost famous you might even venture.
She was my Mam's sister, and she loved nothing more than looking after ALL the 'strays' in town.
She was mostly known for taking in and caring for all the stray dogs, but she also cared for the homeless and 'down on their luck'. Some people thought she was just weird, but Mam says that she 'had her own mind' since she was little. It never bothered her what people thought, she just kept on caring and giving and 'looking out' for living creatures, be they of the two or four legged variety, and on a few occassions, one legged!
Sometimes I like to think I have inherited just a little of her loving and sense of being.

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

Been there done that--- the bus, been homeless...

can't say my hand shot up at the soiled seating on the former... but do #1 count???

FUNNY [albeit, I ken, REAL, lady Pearl] stuff, as always, woman...
Just be thankful you're north of the humid Houston... where summer starts in, like, February...

WHOA!!!

troutay said...

When I worked downtown near the IDS,
I would go eat my lunch in the Crystal Court. I must have looked like a push over because homeless people would sit by me and try to bum smokes, or they would snatch up the buts and smoke the last nth of the cigarette.
I tried to be nice, really, but the smell was so bad, I would end up struggling not to gag and I would give them my lunch as I could not possibly eat it.
Now, I am a tad ashamed of myself. So I make mittens and blankets for them. Home is where you hang your hat after all.

Kavi said...

The NPIP award is unanimously awarded to Pearl the bus rider !

Lets have a celebration. And musics. And some perfume too please.

So, how is to hold the NPIP award...it must be something right.

To hold an award inscribed Not Poop in Pant...is something indeed.

:)

Pearl said...

Rene, this blog seemed to touch some nerves. I certainly meant no offense to this man. I’m glad that you feel deeply about this. My “thing” is blood. I donate a fairly rare blood type as often as I can.

Darsden, my cousin’s first husband was a farmer. It was a rare occasion when he bathed. There was something wrong with that guy…

Sweet Cheeks, I remember window washer guy. I’m glad you watch out for him. I haven’t seen cardboard banjo guy for a while…
Oh, and Liza Bean? Last I heard she was dealing in bootleg DVDs…

Douglas, it’s much easier to be homeless in Florida, and that’s the truth. Still, I would think we could do better for the vulnerable of our society…

Hey, EB. No, I haven’t seen a really tall guy with white hair. Do you remember the cross streets or anything? I would love to tell him that Bob says “hey”.

Roshni, makes you wonder what the answer is, doesn’t it?

Something Happened…, I’m glad that you are teaching your daughters compassion. I am wondering what I should do with how I feel about the young ones downtown, looking very college student and sitting on the sidewalk with their hands out. The new ones don’t look down and out, they don’t look mentally ill or drunk or disturbed. They look lazy to me.

Aria, she does ride the bus. :-D Part of the reason I always sit toward the back. She’s a large woman and rarely ventures past the front side-facing seats. :-D

Powdergirl, I had heard that you could get on the bus in British Columbia in exchange for sexual favors. Is that true? :-D
I’ve read your blog enough to know that you do a bit of volunteering. I love the fact that you do so while maintaining your personality!
And you’re right about the self-medicating mentally ill with no where else to go. I can see that in some of the faces downtown.

@eloh, no, I know of your military background. I’ve met a number of vets that rode the edge of homelessness/addiction/petty crime. We disrespect our soldiers by not providing

Mrwriteon, I don’t know anything about when they’re coming off drugs, but I know from personal experience the smell of people on meth. A very sour, chemical-like smell.
Oh, and btw? You look very stency today.

Warty Mammal, very nicely put.

Lizspin, in my neck of the woods it’s a “peck of dirt before you die”, which I suspect is more than a pound.
As an asthmatic, albeit not a terrible one, I can’t imagine what would happen to my lungs if I were outdoors 24/7…

Mapstew, I have you HAVE inherited her loving nature and sense of being. She sounds like one in a million. It’s nice to think of all the creatures she touched, isn’t it?

Cygnus, I imagine that the Texas homeless have a leg up on the Minnesotans on smell at this time of year, although come July and August we’ll take that bet!

Troutay, I did the same thing. Seriously. In the 80s I would buy an extra of whatever it was (when I could) and leave it on a table just inside the door. Don’t know if the Burger King or Taco Bell folks appreciated that…

Kavi, I hardly know what to say. :-D It’s all so sudden! If it were not for my readers, where would I be?
This may take some time. I need to write this up – I’ve got so many people to thank!!

Jocelyn said...

You're very daring here--going into some non-PC-storytelling (I'm pretty sure we're all supposed to act defensive of the homeless and never recount honestly our layperson's perceptions). Good job, too, on using the "Jesus Martha," which kills me like nothing else.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

August in New York has its own peculiar scent. It's ripe. In the bad way. I love look on a tourist's face when they walk into a subway car and are assaulted with that stench.

C. Andres Alderete said...

I was once offered a canned good by a homeless man who thought I was a part of the club. I told him I wasn't homeless and he asked me for money. True story.

Pearl said...

Jocelyn, thank you. I think it's good for us to acknowledge that we can care about someone who stinks. Without running water at our disposal, we will all stink in just a matter of days. We're not that far apart, any of us...

Unbearable Banishment, I'll bet it does! There are corners of Minneapolis where the heat of the sidewalk and the stink lines over the sewer grate combine to make a ferocious stench...

C. Andres Alderete, this is exactly why I brush my hair and put on lipstick before I leave the house. :-)

Marissa said...

No one is addressing the real issue: the lack of affordable housing. Here's a tool that compares fair market rents to wages: http://www.nlihc.org/oor/oor2009

No mention of the Street Outreach team that works mostly downtown. Give them a call when you see someone you're concerned about. Call 612-879-7624 or toll-free 1-888-550-7624. Based on models in Philadelphia and New York, they use more of a social worker approach than a criminal justice approach.

Feet are a huge issue on the streets. Donate socks, not necessarily shampoo and soap. Though appreciated, most shelters have loads of shampoo and soap but go through pairs and pairs of socks each evening. Underwear and plain white t-shirts are also in high demand, but mostly socks. Especially in winter.

Here's the link to the Street Outreach webpage. http://www.ststephensmpls.org/default.cfm?PID=1.16.9

Great op-ed published in the Strib at the end of March: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentary/42021817.html?elr=KArksi8cyaiUjc8LDyiUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU

The Wilder Foundation does a lot of research on homelessness in Minnesota (they coordinate the homeless counts in October of every third year, the next being this October). Here's the summary of the 2006 report on homelessness in the state: http://www.ststephensmpls.org/Library/upload/wilder%20summary%2006%20survey.pdf
Here's information on their most recent documentary on youth homelessness: http://www.wilder.org/homelessyouth.0.html

Thanks so much for your awareness and not being afraid to talk about something that we often try to ignore or pretend doesn't exist.

Marissa said...

Ha - sorry that last post ended up a little less than organized.

If you'd like further information and/or resources, contact me at 612-879-7627 or email mpherson@ststephensmpls.org. I'm a volunteer coordinator, but have access to and knowledge of other resources.

Adrian's Crazy Life said...

That's a tough situation that is sadly becoming more and more common. We used to have a lot of them around our house. I know some of them were good people, but sometimes they caused problems. We helped one guy out and he came back and robbed our house - twice. After that, I became a lot more cautious about helping in a direct way.