Monday, December 18, 2006

Invisible people...

The poor...

I had to pass through the downtown area in Minneapolis today to deliver a late order to a retired priest - he had ordered some imprinted cards and the order had been delayed. He lives in a nice apartment building not far from a very poor neighborhood.
I refer to the entire vicinity as 'downtown' in the sense that anything below Lake St. really is downtown to me. Although most people think downtown is the business/shopping district.
I must say I was impressed with the urban renewal that I saw. Much of the area is becoming more gentrified, although there are pockets of slum, for lack of a better word - around the Franklin Ave areas. I admit I picked up the downtown thing when I worked in Edina, affected as I was by the affluent suburbans who feared going into Minneapolis. I was never afraid of the seedy parts of the city, but I never ever go downtown any longer for anything. Hence it was like visiting another city for me.
It was a profitable excursion for me today, I must say. I was startled to see more than a couple of homeless people with large shopping carts full of stuff, these same people dressed in layers of coats and pants, with scarves and hats. I assume some of the homeless I saw were mentally ill, but not every one of them. (I think we often convince ourselves that we must have a reason why people are homeless; they're nuts, they're druggies, they're trash...we have to somehow label it - while dismissing, in a sense, their humanity. I expect we more or less objectify them at best - we 'give' to them - their 'plight', without acknowledging their person, as we would acknowledge one another of a more privileged class.)
Pictured: A homeless 'shelter'.

I was ashamed of myself, living in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, going to a nice Church, being with well dressed friends, eating nice food, taking warm showers...all the insulation I need to distract me from the poverty of the city. (See, I need to make the poor anonymous by referring to "the poverty of the city".)
I delivered the cards to Father, who hadn't shaved in days, wearing his dirty t-shirt and shorts, in his stocking feet. He lives all alone in an apartment - in a part of town I still don't like, near Uptown. When I was young and hip, I thought it a cool place to live and hang out - now I hate it - no matter how many upscale condos they build. I realized this priest was invisible to most people now as well. I think he was touched that I brought over his order. (I wasn't however, I just did what I felt he deserved after our screw up.)
Maybe because I have been reading Dickens, but my experiences today made an impression upon me. I realize how blind I have become to the needs of others, to the invisible people. They are only invisible because I've chosen not to acknowledge them. I may see them in my day to day experiences, nevertheless I never see them in their context. I recognize their poverty, but do not even attempt to imagine their living conditions. I can give money to help them, or a kind smile, but I move on in a hurry to get back to the comfort of my home, forgetting all about them. The irony is, I insist that I am always aware of them...nevertheless they remain poor and miserable while I am comfortable and doing everything I can not to be miserable. In essence, we are no different from these poor, except maybe the fact that they remain invisible.
Who are the invisible anyway?
Mentally ill people are always invisible, so are people who work but cannot afford health insurance. We can't worry about them because the State or some charity will take care of them. After all, that's why we donate to charity and pay taxes to the State. We convince ourselves we cannot let ourselves worry so much about them, while keeping them in our 'general intercessions', yet maintaining our own comfortable lives, snug and smug because we give alms and pray for them. We do our 'duty'.
Immigrants are more or less invisible - they have to be if they are illegal. We may meet them at a fast food drive up window, or witness them in a kitchen on our way to the restroom in a better restaurant. We don't think about them however. Just as we don't think about a nursing assistant in a nursing home, or a janitor in an office building. There is quite a long list of invisible people.
For instance, the elderly are invisible. Who pays attention to old people? Unless they are a person of status or means.
Prostitutes are invisible - except to the people who exploit them. (I noticed them today as well.)
Anyone in a poor neighborhood, especially kids - they are invisible too.
Alcoholics and drug addicts are invisible - in fact - the only ones who notice them are those who show them the door - or the police when they are called.
Yeah, just about all the poor, they are pretty invisible - they never ever experience what it is like to be respected by another human being. I think it's safe to assume few even know what the meaning of dignity is, and if they do, they rarely are treated with such.
Christmas is the time we give our alms, whether it be food, clothing or money, and we feel so good about it - all warm and fuzzy. We find ourselves then free to enjoy our festive gatherings and luxuries, while the poor fade from our consciousness, into invisibility once again.
God bless the liberal Churches, such as St. Joan of Arc, or St. Stephen's and that saintly Mary Jo Copeland, and all of their volunteers, who never let the poor out of their sight- who serve them throughout the year, and not just at Christmas.
[For an enlightening post on prostitutes, please go to Adoro Te Devote and read her post on "The Patron Saint of Prostitutes" - she helps us see them from an unique perspective.]


  1. Good point. Do the trad churches worry too much about liturgy and not enough about the poor. Do the liberal churches worry to much about the poor and not enough about liturgy?

    Where's the happy medium?

  2. I live south of Lake Street a bit and regularly drive through there. I see the homeless regularly, mostly standing on corners with their cardboard signs describing their living situation in hopes that they might cadge a buck or two from a motorist idling at a long red light.

    One thing I wondered about for a long time was why I never would see any prostitutes when I would drive through areas known to be their hangouts. (A friend many years ago pointed out how public spirited the Strib was by always pointing out where prostitution arrests were being made, just in case some lonely soul was interested in those kinds of services).

    My conception of prostitutes generally is at odds with what the reality of prostitution is in the inner city. They are not images of the high priced call girls occasionally pictured in the tabloids.

    They are young, and often quite old, and always quite worn looking. Their fees are negotiable. Most men on the make wouldn't look twice.

    But circumstances have determined that this is how these women earn their living to support their addictions, their children and their "friends."

  3. Ray - I should have said I 'think' they were prostitutes - they may have been selling girl scout cookies though - and they were not attractive.

  4. Anonymous7:41 AM

    Having worked with women convicted of prostitution and related charges in Hennepin County - I can tell you that one reason most people don't actually SEE them is because they do their business at night. And yes, they are worn, they are young, old, they are run-down, and they are bold. They do not wait to be approached, but approach cars on their own, so tend to make themselves seen when they are working.

    The threat of jail means nothing to them because at least it's a warm bed, a meal, and they don't have to work.

    ~ Adoro

  5. Adoro - You are correct - I read your fine post about these women caught in this industry and was very moved. It is interesting that I have seen them both in the early morning, and on my way home from work - in each of the Twin Cities. Not the high-styled "Pretty Women" types, but rather rough looking women. I understood one morning why they would wave at a male driver to and from work, realizing some men do things like this, even on their way home to their wife and kids.
    It's so not a victimless crime - there are many victims aren't there?
    Again, all of this is invisible to most people.


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