I stood on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, a famous cross section in San Francisco known for it’s abundance of hippies, smoke shops, and the vibrant atmosphere. Dressed in a colorful flowy tank top and blue-jean shorts, I held my backpack close to my body. I appeared as though I could fit in with the homeless crowd on this particular street. I wasn't trying to, I just happen to dress like them. Apprehensive at first, I managed to voice the words “Could you spare a few dollars,?” to the people walking by.
I felt ashamed, but curious. Facial expressions have never made me feel so many emotions before. The energy people gave off made me feel uneasy. For a moment I felt as if the role I was playing was my true reality. I felt worthless because people made me feel that way. When did humanity put all these walls up?, I thought to myself. I felt trapped in my own body. I've had conversations with homeless people many times before as well as with my peers, and it is safe to say there is an assumption that when you give a homeless person money he or she is going to spend it on drugs or alcohol.
So, I"m sure by now you are all probably thinking, Reighan, why are you asking people for money in the first place?
People with homes battle addictions the same way homeless people do. What’s the difference between a homeless person spending money on drugs and alcohol and a non-homeless person doing the same? Even so, it is not fair to say all homeless people spend money the same way, I've had conversations with many homeless people who are sober and simply do not have a support system to turn to so they remain on the streets. I have also had conversations with a number of homeless individuals who are choosing to pursue their current living situation. Has humanity concluded that we must base our judgments off of the way we spend our money and how much of it we have? Questions raced through my head. Questions I wanted answers to. So I stayed in my role, no matter how uncomfortable it got.
Cars trafficked their way down the busy streets. I stood at a crosswalk where swarms of people made their way through. I was like a fly people wanted to get rid of quickly. Personally, if anybody approaches me in life, whether it be asking for money, a quick chat, or small talk, I tune in. Human interaction is important, but if you're homeless, you're not worth talking to (this is how people made me feel). What if I weren't even to ask for money, but instead a ride? Or lunch? Even if money isn’t asked for, saying hello to a stranger when you're homeless puts many people into fight or flight mode.
So here I am, 19 year old Reighan at the time, harmless and curious. But to everyone else, I was something else.
After some time I started to feel more confident and comfortable. With this change in mindset, a change in the people’s reaction occurred. At this point I also had gained knowledge that men were more prone to give me money than women in fact, women by themselves never gave me money. Only men and couples offered money. After a half hour or so I migrated towards Golden Gate park, where the annual Oyster Festival was happening along with a performance by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Here, a couple heading into the festival was extremely friendly and handed me $8. After we talked for a while they asked if I knew any connections to get weed, but I don’t think they were stereotyping me, they had good energy about them.
I feel that since they took a minute to get to know me they felt comfortable to ask me for it. Even though I didn't have any connections they continued to chat with me for a bit before they headed into the event and wished me well.
A homeless man sat between two trees on a patch of grass near the festival entrance. I watched pedestrians avoid eye contact and speed up the pace as they walked by him. All he was doing was sitting there playing bongo drums with a smile on his face. As the world around him saw him as danger, the look in his eyes showed acceptance of the naive world that swarmed past him, he was going to enjoy himself regardless. Little did I know that when I wasn't observing him, he was observing me.
“Aye girl what you doing?,” The man called to me.
I approached him with a grin on my face, kind of embarrassed but it was funny. I had been caught by the only person who would give me the time of day and treat me as an equal-- the homeless man. How ironic. I walked over and plopped down next to him.
“Now what you need that money for, you ain’t homeless are you?,”
I replied, “No, but I’m broke, and a college student so anything helps.” He was surprised.
“What’s the difference between you and I asking for money,?” I asked him.
He couldn’t come up with an answer. We both shared a laugh. It seemed as if we were the only ones in the park that saw money as a silly thing. It is, and it isn't. But who you are with it is something to keep in mind. He was wearing multiple bracelets and necklaces he made himself.
“I’ll give you $20 for that bracelet right there,” I pointed to his arm. His face lit up, “Girl this ain’t worth that,” he replied. “To me it’s worth it, I want to remember today forever and this bracelet is a token of my experience,” I explained.
The ‘free’ money I made that day wasn’t worth anything to me. What I learned that day was the true value of this life we live and what is worth appreciating. We talked for a while. He connected with me in a genuine sincere way. The conversation wasn't rushed, neither of us had an agenda, we simply appreciated each other's company -- and the bongo drums of course.
The social experiment. It wasn't about money, it was about society and the barriers we build. A piece of paper, a nonliving thing, rules us. The more we have, the more entitled we think we are. The more we have, the more we separate ourselves from the rest of the world and put ourselves in a supreme category. But that’s the illusion. Those who have the least, or try to understand those who do, are the ones who know the secret. The more you have, the more you miss out on what truly matters.
I didn’t appear to be homeless, but there was a possibility I could have looked that way in the perspective of others. I never said I was homeless, if asked I’d explain to them that I’m observing reaction. Out of the numerous people I asked for money, maybe four wanted to know the reason why I needed it.
I’m not sure if the money I made was money to be happy about or money to be ashamed of. I felt refreshed. I concluded that money is in a way a sickness within our world. To humble yourself to the point of any and all judgments is uncomfortable, but empowering.
As I headed back to find my friends, I passed multiple homeless people holding signs, all saying different things. ‘Need Beer Money’, ‘God Bless’, ‘Homeless Veteran’. All different sayings, but the goal remained the same.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you really went out of your comfort zone? It’s easy to think, “Oh, I step out of my comfort zone all the time,” but are you being honest with yourself? Do you try new foods, explore news places, reach out to make new friends outside of your friend group? When’s the last time you felt uncomfortable? With every new experience there is a lesson to learn.
We live in a world that is run on money, but what about the people that don't run their lives according to money? What about that people who want to live for happiness, relationships, and connection? We all have a different way of contributing to the world. We are all important.
Thanks for being here
I feel my purpose is to show readers and viewers different perspectives of the world through the eyes of others. Everyday I challenge myself to think of new theories and concepts, change-up my routine and viewpoints, and allow myself to be creative both mentally and physically. I feel knowledge is power and when we choose to evolve and understand ourselves, we choose to understand our world and the people in it.