July 11 11

I was so happy that it wasn’t raining, as both of my weather apps improperly predicted. I had carried my umbrella with me, but I didn’t really mind carrying back home, unused. I was pleased that it was boiling and humid. I don’t mind it, and I was actually looking to defrost my poor extremities after a day behind my desk under far too much air conditioning.

As I removed my black cardigan sleeve to throw into my purse, I heard a loud scream, followed by maniacal laughter.

And then a filthy hand reached out and grabbed my leg.

I was minding my own business, mere steps from my office, and I was grabbed by a gap-toothed, dirt-encrusted, laughing homeless man. He ran off, laughing away, leaving me standing there, in the middle of the sidewalk, practically paralyzed.

Did that really just happen? I asked myself.

“Did that really just happen?” I asked the woman standing beside me; she was equally sunned.

“Oh my gosh! Are you okay?”

“Yes, I think so.”

And I was pretty sure I was. Physically, at least. Obviously, he hadn’t meant to hurt me. Clearly, this man was mentally ill, not unlike the man who sleeps on the street corner or the man who talks to the street lights or the woman who begs for $1.39 one day and then $.035 the next day. My four block walks each morning from the Queen subway station are usually spent trying to avoid the homeless, trying to not be affected, trying to fight my basic instinct, which is to buy each and every one of them a donut and coffee and hand them each a crisp ten dollar bill.

I walk with my head down, looking at my feet, pretending they don’t exist. Because ignoring them is the only way I can emotionally deal with knowing that there are people who use streets as beds and their clothing as toilets. I convince myself that my money won’t be used to fill empty bellies, but instead will be used to fill empty alcohol bottles. Ignoring them is the only way I can avoid bankrupting myself on a daily basis.

So, yes, physically I was okay after this man reached out and grabbed my leg.

But emotionally, I was not.

And I’m not sure I’ll ever be.


  1. I fight the same instincts. Instead of completely avoiding though, I limit myself to a fixed amount (usually $10 or $20). However, I don’t go downtown daily.


    Comment by SFD on July 12, 2011
  2. I used to wonder why my grandmother didn’t want to give someone who was homeless and in need money – and then I saw someone after saying they only needed five dollars (and my grandmother gave it out), go to another person and start the same speech.

    As a result, I may feel horrible about people standing on a corner or a median… but I do the look away tactic.


    And also, WTH homeless man??


    Comment by Mari on July 12, 2011
  3. Powerful post Ali. That must have been very frightening. I would not have liked that at all.

    I don’t give money, but I look everyone in the eye and smile or say a quick word. I used to know some of guys downtown when I volunteered in the Out of The Cold Program. A number came to my wedding, bc they all live there outside the church. Remembering that always makes me smile.


    Comment by Lisa b on July 12, 2011
  4. I was driving home on Sunday evening and I saw a dude asking for money at an off-ramp. And I was all “that dude is not homeless. That dude took a hot shower this morning and shaved.” And then I was like “when did I get so jaded? When did I start to believe that these people are just in it for the money?”

    It’s hard because I see so many every day. And I wish I could help, but I can barely afford my mortgage, sadly. And I’d go broke trying to help out so many people.


    Comment by Kristabella on July 12, 2011
  5. I’m so sorry Ali.


    Comment by Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] on July 12, 2011
  6. This was very well written, Ali.

    I work with the homeless in my city and most of them are mentally ill, but wouldn’t hurt you. I’ve been frightened only a couple of times when one of them was a little too aggressive for my liking. Still though, it’s scary.



    Comment by Shauna on July 12, 2011
  7. You know, I was thinking about this today actually and writing a blog post in the same-ish vein.

    Although I have yet to get touched by a homeless person, I have been verbally ‘attacked’ by a crazy/homeless/coming down off of heroin and in need of a fix.

    That, that was pretty damn scary!


    Comment by Steph on July 12, 2011

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