Homeless Karma

Laura Brown, Dignity Village

first published in Everyday Revolutions


The girl all dressed in gothic black, wearing a silver spiked collar and spiked piercings throughout her face, dangling chains from her belt loops and tattoos crawling out her sleeves, was sitting cross-legged on the downtown sidewalk when I crossed her black-cat path. She said to me, "Spare any change for the rude and obnoxious?" Another day, a homeless man asked me for spare change for a bite to eat. I told him I was homeless also and all the near-by places he could get a good free meal. He barely had the patience to listen to my suggestions, anxious to move on to the next prospect for the change he’d need for a beer maybe. Judgemental of me to assume this, I know, but more likely than not, true. If I have any change, I’d much rather give it to the honest person who asks me if I have any spare change for a beer. What is a panhandler anyway? Is it the man who beats on upside-down plastic buckets with drumsticks on the corner? Is it the man who asks for spare change and then hollers obscenities at you when you decline? Is it the old woman who asks for change to do her laundry? Is it the family who sits quietly, holding a sign reading, "Homeless. Anything Helps." Or is it, possibly, the hungry politician who solicits donations for his campaign fund? Think about it, dwell on it awhile, then do what your heart tells you is right. Generosity is exchange is karma is your heart.


The most generous folks I’ve met during this past year of homelessness (residentially challenged) are other homeless or low-income (financially challenged) folks like myself. They are the ones who often generously share what little they have, sometimes even giving what they can’t spare. Often it is worth it for a knowing and understanding hug, smile, nod, without looking for payment or a tax relief, or glory in the eyes of others for what they’ve done or given. There is a certain understanding among most homeless street people, a camaraderie and knowing kinship in this growing community that can be matched by no other group. We look after each others’ belongings, we give a blanket, a razor, a cigarette, a tee shirt in the summer and a sweat shirt in the winter. When one of us is stopped, searched, harassed or awoken by the "Bumble Bees" or "Bikes," we stay nearby to make sure our friends are safe and treated fair and just. We often try to sleep in well-lit places, in groups of various sizes, for safety. We take newcomers to the streets where they can find food boxes, soup lines, clothes and hygiene, medical and dental, and so on. No resource list can match a seasoned homeless person. I have seen several dozen actions on the streets that have touched my heart so dearly, in a population where loneliness, frustration, despair, and hopelessness abounds, but the bright spot in all our lives is each other. We ask nothing, do as much as we can, knowing only that karma is real. A given up extra pair of tennis shoes in the summer may come back to us as a warm pair of boots in December. You never know really how your actions affect another. We can begin to understand though by giving up preconceived notions of what’s enough. I learned this the day my sister arrived at Dignity Village.


I knew she would pull up in her fancy little SUV, I just knew it. I walked to the entrance of my homeless village to greet her. Her hair was beautiful, salon dyed and styled, and I tried to smooth down my graying and out of control curls as best I could. Her nails were long and sleek, shiny with color and sparkle of Rhinestone jewel for accent. I threw my arms around my sister quickly so she wouldn’t see the dirt under the short, broken nails. Her clothes were clean-smelling and stylish, pressed to perfection. She was looking fabulous. I was glad I’d borrowed a pretty blouse from a sympathetic villager friend for the occasion. My sister told me about her home with a balcony in a beautiful setting. I told her as little about my pallet, plywood and tarp structure as possible. She brought me gifts of clothes, fancy smelling body oils and lotions. She bought me tailor made cigarettes and took me to the Greyhound races where she bought me a prime rib dinner. I had only my time, humor and love to offer her in return. At dinner, where I was feeling embarrassed about my circumstances and somewhat humiliated, (by no fault of my sister) she said something to me that blew me away. She said that she was jealous of me. ME!! Jealous of me? She said how nice to must be to be totally free…free of mortgages and car payments. She was jealous of my freedom to go where ever I want, whenever I want to, to experience the things I’ve experienced, and to be free of all the ties that bind. Suddenly, I loved my sister as never before because in her way, she made me feel suddenly rich, very rich indeed.