A homeless person’s shopping cart, a nick in a fancy car and a note with an intersection for an address. Lev Kushner has this Perspective on homelessness and accountability.
Recently, walking into the sharp afternoon sun of Dogpatch with a colleague, we found a note on her windshield. It was a piece of pale pink construction paper that read, “My shopping cart [was] loaded. Coming off 22nd & sidewalk leans. Cart headed 4 street. I held on as best I could.” It was signed with a name and an address. Perplexed, we searched the car for a few minutes, only finally finding a small chip in the paint.
I’ll admit it: we laughed. It was the easiest response. Do you think she has collision insurance for her grocery cart? What’s the deductible? It was all so preposterous - expensive red sports car damaged by wobbly shopping cart, rich and poor - that we used humor to build a wall between us and the bright, reflective glare of our failure.
The homelessness crisis is about responsibility. Who is responsible for this mess? Who decides what needs to change? Who should pay? How responsible are the impoverished for their predicament and how responsible are the rest of us for helping them?
The longer it goes the more we get used to it - used to looking right past the suffering and used to doing nothing to stop it. It lowers our expectations of ourselves.
But here’s the thing: this was someone who took responsibility. Not for the broken safety net or social biases, but for the only part she could control: her own actions. You are what you do.
She could have easily just written a note of apology and left it at that. But having no phone, she shared her address, too. Think about that. Having damaged a complete stranger’s car, would you tell them where you lived? I wouldn’t. Most likely, shamefully, I would have just kept walking and never even left a note.
But she held on as best she could. And when that didn’t work, she owned it.
With a Perspective, this is Lev Kushner.
Lev Kushner is a real estate consultant in San Francisco.