Is Using Public Spaces A Privilege?

Yesterday, I read a comment on Instagram about the homeless people gathering in the Main Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The past several weeks had been extremely hot. During the most scorching days, I would walk out of the office with a big water bottle and a stack of paper cups, so that if I saw somebody on the street, I would be able to give them a drink of water before urging to go inside.

Thankfully, I barely saw anybody – people were smart to find refuge in multiple public spaces, and I am so glad they did. Fortunately, public libraries in the big cities have always been dubbed as day shelters, both in extreme cold and extreme heat. And after seeing a movie Cooked , I could not be more thankful for that.

I am struggling to write anything else on the subject. I can’t wrap my head around this cruel comment about homeless people “contaminating” the beautiful building. Why do some people think that if they are “more presentable”, or pay more taxes, they are “more valuable” for society and thus are entitled to access public spaces more than others? When I commented that I am glad that people are in the library, not outside, I’ve got a reply that there are shelters. This statement sounded for me no better than segregation, when some people “deserve” to be at certain places, while others don’t.

Later the same day I was at the Open Door Shelter of the Night Ministry, where I volunteer regularly cooking with the youth. And after the meal was washed away (everybody loved my baked salmon), we had a great conversation. There were some young people whom I met previously, and also one more young man with whom I never talked before. I was so impressed by his intelligence and the dignity he carried himself. It just happened that we got into discussing racial profiling and stereotypes. I do not start this type of conversation by myself when I am in the ODS, but funny enough he said something to which I’ve reacted – this is a generalization! He laughed, and we continued talking.

As an immigrant, I did have my share of prejudgements towards me, and I learned half – not to pay attention, half – to accept it as a fact of life. And I have tremendous respect for people who do not become upset or bitter when they are faced with prejudgement and maintain the sense of their worth and self-respect.

I was walking back to the CTA station with the sense that this day was worth living:)

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