Can You Tell a Homeless Person When You Pass Them?

Commentary by Raymond Jacobs

In 1994, when I first arrived in Cleveland, I met a young lady who would feed the pigeons everyday in the park area in front of Public Square. We became friends. As friends do, we started sharing our life stories. She began by telling me that she feeds the pigeons because they were homeless just like she was. Just viewing her outward appearance, you couldn’t tell that she was homeless. She was a laid off auto worker whose unemployment had run out.

I often wondered why a homeless woman would panhandle in order to buy popcorn to feed the pigeons.  I have to think that she was feeding the pigeons so that no one would know that she was homeless.  She told me, “I am homeless—they are homeless.  I am hungry—they are hungry.”  She knew that I was homeless, and finally the Downtown Alliance ran her out of public square for feeding the pigeons. I think that it is stupid to make it illegal to feed the pigeons. 

 I really felt sorry for her.  She did this everyday no matter if it was hot or cold. Then the Downtown Alliance ran her out of there.  They made her stopped feeding the pigeons.  I never saw her again.  She was escorted off the Square and she was crying that last day.  No matter how much snow or how cold she was feeding the pigeons.  I think I heard she had done it for 20 years on Public Square.

 We, a great industrial nation, have now become a nation of homelessness and poverty-struck citizens as a direct result of the poor decisions and policy making of our nation’s leaders. This lady became homeless while waiting for other benefits to kick in. This is happening daily at an alarming rate. It has also led to the rapid increase in homelessness among everyday citizens. This increase will continue even more when the soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan return.

 Presently in this country, the poor pay even more. The price is now the loss of pride and dignity which has been stripped away by a system they once believed in.