Opinion

Walking Among the Homeless

McKeever Spruck | The PHOENIX
McKeever Spruck | The PHOENIXOn Sept. 18, homeless inhabitants, like 52-year-old Raphael Mathis, of Tent City in Uptown were uprooted from their settlements at the Wilson and Lawrence avenue viaducts.

I’ve found it interesting lately to ask people how they recognize someone as homeless or not: Do homeless people wear certain colors or name brands; do they use a special handshake?

As a nation, we should be forewarned homeless people are among us, trying to use homelessness to their advantages and get money, food, drugs or cigarettes from us. Joking aside, I think it’s important to be able to pick these people out — they might try their aggressive panhandling on us if we aren’t careful.  They might “guilt” us into buying them a cheeseburger or, better yet, onion rings.

To get back to this important topic, let us consider their appearance. Multiple blog entries with comments from several Chicago people, who seem to be experts on everything, say to watch for: missing teeth, dirty and scraggly hair, stained clothing and mis-matched colors in the wardrobe in general. Also, watch for “things that don’t go together” like army boots and beachwear.

Next, examine the paraphernalia they carry. They’ll have signs with phrases such as “homeless, please help” and various items showing they need assistance: canes, walking sticks or thick glasses. They’ll often have several different types of backpacks, without matching colors, and duffle bags. In addition, they’ll have shopping bags from different stores, perhaps one from Target and one from CVS Pharmacy.

Again, the colors and styles of the bags and the apparel can’t match.  If they’re color and theme-coordinated, the bags send the message that isn’t a homeless person.

In addition, watch for items that show the person “has issues” or maybe is “hiding from the law.” They could be wearing a jacket with bullet holes in the back or a lightweight jacket even though the temperature is below zero degrees Fahrenheit. They should, again, have a jacket that doesn’t “go” with the rest of their outfit.

In addition, watch for items: If their clothing is too normal and color-coordinated, they should have a jacket or sweater that breaks them out of that convention.  Black slacks, grey shirt and black cap?  Then the jacket should be pink and green stripes.  Or orange and red polka dots. “The clothes make the man,” someone said. They also tell us everything else about that man.

Note: Brown oxford or casual shoes will work too, if the dude is broke and can’t afford brown wingtips. Brown shoes are available everywhere. Black shoes are the ones in demand for weddings, job interviews and court sentencings.

My buddy Dwight always reminds me: “Don’t judge a guy until you have walked in his shoes.” Doing so would tell us a lot about that individual’s life indeed, with or without onion rings.

Go with the unexpected, the homeless always say — especially for men’s clothing choices.

The colors of shoes and boots must work this way too.  The only exceptions right now are the “cool and privileged” well-dressed yuppie dudes are wearing brown wingtip shoes right now. This makes them look like the sullen emaciated guy in the ads by the train.

Be sure to note whether the person is talking to themselves … or, better yet, screaming.  If there’s screaming, it should have no connection whatsoever with the temperature, weather or general doings of the day.

A bright sunny day for begging? Then the homeless person will be talking about how hard it is to live in Siberia, or about the slaughter of goats in Patagonia, or how they love dancing in the rain because it keeps the Muslims away.

Any signs of craziness at all can help us ID the homeless. Once we spot these people, we don’t have to give them our spare change or treat them like human beings.

You can even design a Facebook game like “what is your homeless person name?” You know, if your first name starts with “A-D” your homeless nickname is “ax-murderer” and “E-H” is “scary guy” and “I-L” is “dangerous commander-in-chief,” etc.

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