What do you feel when you see homeless people?

Pity over their plight? Scorn over their futility? Fear of eye contact with them? Pride based on the dubious notion that personal merit explains why you've got it so much better than they do?

Or, like Wendell Gilliard, do you feel like saying, "I told them so"?

No, the "them" in this case aren't the homeless.

Gilliard told me Thursday that in 2009, "I told my colleagues in the General Assembly if we don't do anything about homelessness, it's going to get worse."

And it has.

Gilliard served from 1997-2008 on Charleston City Council before moving up to the Legislature. So as a rookie state lawmaker, he already knew our city had a serious - and intensifying - homeless problem before he held a seminar on the issue at the International Longshoremen's Association Hall.

Still, that event gave him "a rude awakening" on the spreading scope of homelessness in our community. Since then, he has pushed - so far in vain - assorted legislative initiatives to help the homeless, including establishing "transitional villages" of low-cost housing for them.

He has pre-filed two more homelessness bills for the session starting next month. One would require counties to annually print and distribute a small booklet with information on where assistance to the homeless is available.

Another state law requiring county spending?

Then again, that bill likely won't pass. Gilliard, a Democrat, knows from his two-term experience that helping the homeless isn't high on the list of priorities in our Republican-dominated Legislature.

A plenty too many

Before branding all of us conservatives as heartless, though, answer this question:

What's so compassionate about the Nanny State's delusional efforts to provide dependency-addicting, cradle-to-grave support for nearly all Americans at the expense of the dwindling taxpaying few?

Hey, the more people you pay not to work, the more people won't work.

Then again, even many of us small-government free marketeers can't blithely dismiss the suffering of homeless children as tolerable collateral damage of capitalism.

Yes, some of the "homeless" are still what once were known as drunken bums or "rummies" (no offense to drunks, bums or rum).

No, you shouldn't give money to panhandlers, lest they quickly squander it on another bottle of inebriating elixir.

Yet the widening range of homelessness increasingly includes the mentally ill - and families with kids.

It's easy to blame drunken bums for their self-inflicted misery. Yet it's hard to blame little girls and boys - or even their parents (many of whom are sober) - engulfed by the hard-times tide.

That, however, doesn't mean the homeless should rate special-victim status under a "hate crimes" proposal - another bill pre-filed by Gilliard.

When asked Thursday why assaulting somebody without a home should warrant a harsher penalty than assaulting somebody with a home, Gilliard told me its long-shot aim is "to get people's attention."

He also told me why he will persist as an advocate for the homeless:

"My mother and father always taught me to help people in need because you're one step from being in the same situation."

What a way to go

Maybe you doubt that you share that imminent peril of becoming a street person.

Maybe you're wrong.

But there's no "maybe" about this Nov. 27 Associated Press dispatch:

"GREENVILLE - Authorities have released the name of a homeless man who froze to death outside an abandoned grocery store in Greenville. WYFF-TV reported that Greenville County Coroner Parks Evans has identified the man as 66-year-old Jackie Boyce Goldman of Fountain Inn. Goldman's body was found Sunday morning [Nov. 24] on a sidewalk. Evans estimates that he died from hypothermia sometime around 4 a.m. that day. The National Weather Service says temperatures in the area dipped down to 30 degrees early Sunday with gusty winds."

And to maintain a cold-hearted attitude toward the homeless, you have to dip way down on the caring-about-others scale.

So good luck to Gilliard on helping the homeless.

Meanwhile, if you want to help the homeless, make a good contribution to The Post and Courier's Good Cheer Fund.

And if you want to measure this proliferating phenomenon's human toll, try looking a homeless person in the eye.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.