There’s a small cluster of hills near my home in the Pacific Northwest.  Rising up to 500 feet, they are steep, rocky, and densely forested.  These hills separate the west end of town with an industrial area along the Columbia river.  At this time of year, they are cold and very wet.  A variety of wildlife make their homes there including, deer, raccoon, opossum, and coyote.  It is also a place where the silent phantoms of human misery look for some sort of refuge.

America turns it back on the homeless for a variety of reasons.  Some consider them indolent and unworthy of sympathy.  Some believe homelessness is a personal choice.  Some are embarrassed to recognize them out of personal guilt or patriotic pride.  Some consider them just the natural fallout from a competitive economy, for they are the unskilled or unfortunate losers in society.  But in the greatest and most prosperous nation in the world, homeless people do exist and they do so right under our noses.

The police occasionally clear them from the hill so they never have the opportunity to setup lasting accommodations.  Where they go afterwards, I do not know.  But, they do return.  They store what little possessions they have in shopping carts and hide them in the thick brush at the foot of the hill.  They tie sleeping bags to the trunks of trees which hang like colorful cocoons on the precarious slopes.  You can see their trails between the trees, and the discarded cores from a nearby crabapple tree.  Every once in a while you’ll see a discarded piece of clothing, or an empty bottle of fruit juice.  During the day they move about on the streets, with apparent purpose, in an effort to remain inconspicuous.  They take great care to ensure no one sees them walking up to their hilltop haven lest they be reported.  Getting caught by the authorities seems to be the greatest fear of these homeless.

Driving around town, you can see the few places where they’re allowed to ask for help.  The vehicle entrance to my local grocery store always has one, and only one, homeless person holding a sign asking for whatever shoppers can give.  They stay there all day long rain or shine.  The next day, a different homeless person mans that station.  It almost seems like they’ve worked out a rotating schedule between them.  Most folks simple ignore them.

Do these souls have names?  Do they have hopes and dreams?  Do they love and cherish others like we do?  When will we even try to find out?  When will we choose to end this human tragedy?

2 thoughts on “Phantoms on the Hill

  1. Last week I was watching a documentary about daily life in a London fried chicken place and I thought it was quite touching that the shop owner will give a homeless person a free meal if they ask for something to eat. A larger, smarter fast food chain would not allow anyone a freebie, I’m sure – despite having larger profits at its disposal.

    Still, handouts only provide momentary relief. Where there’s a widespread problem I can only see the state (government or related agencies) as the solution.


    • Agreed. This problem is too big for individual generosity or private charity. The structural issues that restrict economic opportunity and create income inequality can only be addressed collectively.


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