Monday, June 4, 2012

Homeless of Gainesville

I wanted to start the week on a lighter note by introducing my readers to the area I live in…. and its residents. I live in Gainesville, a college town in Florida, home of the Gators. If you look around my neighborhood however,you’ll find very few students, unless it’s late at night and they are frequenting the local bar scene. Downtown is were many locals live – and quite a few homeless people as well. My apartment is just a few blocks away from the old bus station that they adopted as their resting area, St Francis House, a local shelter, yet my apartment is considered to be in Gainesville’s prime location. Just a short walk from restaurants, shops and bars. Most of the city’s bus routes connect in my neighborhood, which is part of the reason I chose it, despite the price. You see, I’m in a wheelchair and I don’t drive. When I lived in other parts of town I’ve spent hours on the bus going to and from places to get food everyday. On weekends, in the summer and during holidays certain routes don’t run, finish early or are reduced making getting home a difficult task. But the trade off was not only paying more rent but also – my unusual neighbors right around the corner. Gainesville has a well established veteran’s hospital that draws a lot of homeless into the city. I don’t mind them, they don’t bother me. Many are talkative and respectful. I think we established a rapport of sorts. I see a lot of the same faces every day, and every day they ask me for money. If I decline, they let me be and often they want to help me. I don’t fear them as I leave my house or go back at night unless they’re somewhat disturbed. Sometimes I see people talking to someone as if they were standing right next to them, yelling or fighting an invisible enemy. Those situations are scary and I avoid passing the downtown plaza at night. Most however are civil. One man asks me for forty five cents everyday as if I would carry that kind of change exactly. Some make up stories: once someone wanted a dollar for the bus when the busses were no longer running, while other people claimed they were just released from Army or prison that day not releasing that I’ve heard that same  story a week earlier. My favorite was when a man said he needed to buy tampons for his wife. I used to give in to some of those demands when I didn’t live in the area, now I just don’t carry cash. They are never violent or aggressive in anyway at least to me and many seem to watch out for my safety. Some can carry a good conversation, stop and chat or even play chess. Many carry everything they own in bags and backpacks on carts or bikes. A man had a dog sitting in a shopping cart like a child and one time I saw something that appeared to be a dog sled on wheels ridding on the street. Some want to earn their money by helping local businesses and bars close. Others just go from person to person asking for a handout. There’s this one man, a street prophet named Eugene who claims to know the Bible by heart despite never reading it, making it rain when he cries and causing the wind to move the leaves on tree branches. He also takes sole credit for me passing the Bar exam. In midst of all of this I’m never  threatened and I always feel safe. I know it’s superficial and it could change at anytime, but for now, I’m fine. I am more concerned about crossing the street at a busy intersection at night than bumping into somebody [knock on wood]

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