There have been a lot of stories in the "Local" section of the news this past year about the homeless situation in Fort Lauderdale. The groups that feed them on the beach have been targeted because feeding the homeless people at the beach interferes with the tourists' perception of paradise and that is contrary to the Fort Lauderdale mayor and city commission. They think it should appear that life in south Florida is all sunshine and rainbows so everyone wants to come here. Which is exactly why the homeless come here. It's warm. And, someone will feed them.
Last week, I left my office to get a sandwich. I got caught by the traffic signal and so, had time to sit and watch what was going on at the bus stop there on the corner. There's a bench and there is usually a couple of folks waiting for the next bus. I am an avid people watcher, but, on this particular day, there was this woman ... she was wrapped from head to toe in a rather stylish combination of fashions and she walked in circles around the bench, talking to someone unseen by me. There were people waiting for the bus, but they had clearly distanced themselves from her.
As she repeated her path around the bench, I noted there were several shopping bags leaning against the bench, clearly filled with this woman's few personal belongings. I watched in fascination as she walked around and around the bench and I wondered to myself how a person could be this way, how they could repeat this walking around the bench over and over. I wondered how long she had been here. I grabbed my camera and fired a couple of shots.
Then, the light changed and I went to Burger King.
Later the same day, a little after 4:30, I headed back toward that traffic signal. There is a gas station on that corner and I was on "E" for empty. I pulled in, parked next to the pump, swiped my ATM card and set the pump to fill my tank. And, as I leaned against my car to wait, I saw her.
The woman. Walking in circles around the bench. Still. Four hours later. So, once again, I grabbed my camera.
I don't know much about homeless people. I am deeply saddened by families who live in their cars, a type of homelessness that no one talks much about. I see people sleeping in the bushes sometimes on the back side of the bus station. And, I know the local police often find homeless individuals hiding, sleeping, peeing and pooping in the beautiful landscaping we have here in sunny, south Florida. It seems these folks have little regard for the other folks around them, though. This lack of respect makes it hard for me to have sympathy for them. Why can't they just get a job and get their life together? What's so hard about that?
You see, the thing is ... I know how hard it can be. I've watched my brother struggle with issues that caused him to be homeless just two years ago. He's in a group living facility today, working day labor and just getting by, but he still hasn't found a full-time job. I often wonder if there is a connection between those two things? The homelessness status and getting a job?
I wish I knew.
They are not going away anytime soon. Not until it's warmer up north. Then there aren't as many of them. Especially during the summer. They come back, though. When it gets cold up north, they head south and a lot of them like Fort Lauderdale Beach. I don't think they're here for fun in the sun, though. I think they come here just to keep warm. It's a good thing the sunshine is free, isn't it?