Ben Hsu

Blog · Essay · Nonfiction

Outside the Building

There is a houseless person outside the building where I work. They set up a tent on the small patch of grass between the building’s side entrance and the parking lot to a dying strip mall. Whenever I mention this to my more well to do friends they express concern for me and my safety. I’m ashamed to realize that I am concerned for my safety, but I say nothing about my concerns. Instead, I thank them for their concern, and assure them that I am safe. I am sure that I am safe. Their ‘yard’ is full what others would consider refuse: opaque plastic bags full of unknown, misshapen materials, plastic jars full of cloudy liquids, and long sheets of crumpled plastic. I suspect they’ve been raiding the surrounding dumpsters, but I’m afraid of what I’ll discover if I check. I wouldn’t know what to do with the information anyway.

There is a houseless person outside the building where I work. I can hear yelling at night now, outside the building, after it’s dark. I work on the second floor and I can’t understand any of the words through the thick, glass windows. They sound angry and unfocused. I don’t know if it’s the houseless person yelling, but the yelling only started after they set up camp. The yelling only lasts a few minutes. A few days ago my studiomate left a few granola bars in a plastic bag outside their tent. The next day we found the bag full of empty granola wrappers in their yard. The day after we found a note saying, “need food, please help.” Today, I brought them a jar of mixed nuts, a jug of drinking water, and a spare blanket my wife and I keep in the car. I left the items outside their tent with a note saying, “I hope this helps. Stay safe.” It’s getting colder.

There is a houseless person outside the building where I work. My studiomates and I spent the morning discussing what to do about them. The mayor began sending out squads of police to forcibly relocate any houseless populations they can find shortly before New Years. I don’t know where they relocated to. Every service we looked up we found ourselves questioning, “Will they actually help this person, or just force them to relocate?” We finally settled on a service that seemed to avoid police involvement and resolved to call them the next morning.

There is a houseless person outside the building where I work. A familiar sadness fills me as I write this piece. Through no actions of my own, I have joined the ranks of the wealthy. But I am not wealthy enough to help the single person outside the building, not they kind of help they need. There are thousands like them in this city alone, and there will be more in the coming years.

There is a houseless person outside the building where I work. Tomorrow, social workers will come and assess the situation. Hopefully, they will get the help they need. They’ll be provided with food, treatment and stable housing, and they will no longer have to be outside the building where I work. But even if that happens, even if they are allowed to rejoin society, I know they will be replaced by another houseless person, and another, and another…until we learn to stop discarding human life.

Blog · Essay · Nonfiction

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