While riding the subway in NYC this weekend I had an experience that I just would not have on the Metro in D.C. A man entered at one of the stops. He was wearing a well worn white shirt, with stains on it, and a pair of dark blue jeans. He entered to our right and I noticed him right away. He was talking in a loud voice, but I could not understand what he was saying at first. He was swaying he shoulders back and forth to some unheard music and I just figured he had schizophrenia. He stopped in front of where my mother, sister and I were sitting. He started yelling about how all of us on the train did not have jobs, that only he had a job, and then he went into a routine about how he ended up living on the trains, making a living. He talked about his 398 lb wife and her horrible cooking and how she drove him out of the house and into homelessness. He did all of this in quite an amusing manner, but most of the people on the train averted their eyes from him, staring at the floor or at their phones. One man started yelling at him that he did not want to hear his "shit", and I was worried an altercation was going to erupt, but it simmered down and nothing physical occurred. Just before we got to our stop he asked for some money to feed his belly and he got five or six dollars, even something from the guy who had been yelling at him. He left us at the stop and was off to another car.
That kind of solicitation is illegal on the train, but he is low risk, as long as he does not upset someone too much, they are not going to report him, and since he has no props, he can disappear into the crowd really well. He can make a lot more money doing that than he can begging up on the streets. It may take more of an effort, but he may say "what do I have to lose?"
I'm curious what the mental health status of this gentleman is. Many people who are homeless have mental disorders. They have slipped through the cracks of a broken system. They are the victims of an uncaring world. These are the people I want to dedicate my life to. I want to change the system so the cracks get filled and people no longer slip through them. I, myself, cannot give every homeless beggar enough money to really make a difference, but I might be able to create a program, or change a policy. This is the advocacy work I want to do. I will advocate for people whose voices are not being heard.