Throughout our visit to The Big Easy Cheetah noticed the people on the streets who were sleeping, crying, or asking for help (food, money, jobs, or shelter). He asked, “Why does it seem that so many of these people live on the street?” Thoughtfully, I answered, “Because many of them do live on the streets.” I let that sentence sink in as we walked in silence, for a few blocks.
“How does that happen? How do you not have a place to live?” he asked.
I began, “There are a lot of situations that can lead to homelessness, son; it is something that effects all races, genders, and economic statuses. That means it is something that can happen to anyone.” I am no expert on the topic but I tried my best to cover all the situations I could imagine. I tried to cover financial loss & unemployment, drug & alcohol addiction, and mental & physical disabilities.
I reminded him of our conversations on debt and how easy it can be for a person to get behind financially, I also explained how unemployment and lack of skills can leave a person without a way to make a living. Then I tried to describe addiction and disabilities and how alienating they can be, how they build up walls in your life that make it difficult for you to continue fruitful relationships with the ones you love. I attempted to clarify why some drugs are illegal, what they can do to you, why people take them and how deadly and addicting they can be. We googled pictures of some of the drugs he had heard of and I took the opportunity to educate him on some of the synthetics that are sweeping the nation and ways to say “no” to people. He seemed to grasp how feelings of despair and depression can lead people to a life of solitude; how inviting being on your own can be when you feel unworthy or if you're frightened you may be hurt or hurt someone else. Then I covered medical care and how the inability to afford proper medical care can leave people in mental and physical states where they cannot be taken care of properly or cannot afford to take care of themselves, properly.
By this time I was zapped, but I could see our hotel and knew we would be in a dark cool hotel room in under five minutes. That's when I was thrown a curve-ball. We crossed the last street there sat a disabled man wearing a hat similar to my father’s, it read “Vietnam Veteran.” I could barely breathe. The Boy squeezed my hand so tight. He reached into his pocket and gave the man his dollar. He then said, “Thank you for your service.” Silently we walked through the hotel and boarded the elevator, still holding hands. Once we reached our room he asked me how I thought that man ended up on the streets. I then tried to explain war and how it can leave a solider broken, to a nine year old.
Thankfully Tarzan called and asked if we would be willing to pick him up. Cheetah and I jumped in the car and headed out of the city. As I piloted the car through the rain his eyes fell upon the underpass where a large number of (what he/we assumed to be) homeless people; his voice shook as he uttered, "Mom there are just too many of them. We have to help." He was right. (Please check out The National Alliance to End Homelessness in America, they have viable solutions for all areas.)
We picked up Tarzan and he rounded up the final questions Cheetah had for the day and filled in anygaps in the explanations we had discussed earlier in the day. Our tired minds and heavy hearts needed some lifting, so we headed out for frozen yogurt before bed. I was so glad he opted to take a shower and call it a night, after binging on frozen goodies. I turned off all the lights and sat on the floor by the bathroom listening as my sweet son drifted off to dreamland swimming in the sounds of my Bread station on Pandora. He might not have been aware of it but I saw pieces of his innocence dying that day and it was so unsettling to see the harshness of the world through his eyes.