I have always been one to give a handout to a homeless person. I feel like I owe. I know that when my son is on the street, he relies on the kindness of strangers.
People have given him money. They have bought him food. I imagine a few of them have bought him booze. One lady paid for a hotel room when it was fifteen degrees outside.
It’s a common perception that if you give money to a homeless person, they immediately go out and buy booze or drugs. I can’t say that I haven’t thought and don’t still think the same thing…but it’s not always true.
One day my sister and I were approached by a man and he asked if we had any spare change. He said he was hungry. I gave him all the cash I had which was only three dollars and my sister gave him the same.
I watched him walk away, clutching that money as if it was pure gold.
My sister said “he’s probably going straight to the liquor store” and then turned around and headed to the car. I watched the man walk all the way across the parking lot and straight into McDonald’s. He was telling the truth. He was hungry. I wish I had followed him and bought him enough food to last him for the day.
It’s winter now and depending on where you live, it can be bitterly cold. I have seen homeless people shivering, holding up signs that say “will work for food.”
At night, I have seen them crouched down in alcoves in the front of stores. I have seen them asleep on sidewalk grates and park benches. I have seen them in dumpsters, covered up with pizza boxes. I’ve seen them being handcuffed, most likely for public drunkenness and/or vagrancy. The last time I saw that, I thought “at least they’ll be warm and have something to eat tonight.”
I decided to gather up all the quilts that I have made and put them to good use. They’re doing no good folded up and put away.
I drove all the way to my hometown because I know where most of the homeless people hang out. They congregate around a park, where all the city buses used to line up, waiting to make their daily rounds.
I stopped by McDonald’s to get some food. I have never had a hamburger from McDonald’s and I wasn’t sure what to order. I told them to give me a great big hamburger, put everything they had on it, give me everything that came with it and do it times fifteen. They looked at me like they thought maybe I had just awakened from a sixty year coma.
I took the food and quilts uptown and handed them out to the homeless people who were standing on almost every corner.
Some of them smelled like the local brewery but I didn’t care. Some of them were so grateful, I thought they might cry. Some of them hugged me and called me an angel. Some of them seemed embarrassed, took the quilt and food and said nothing.
I see my son in every one of them. I see him in every labored step they take while trying to get across the street. I see him in every hopeful glance they cast when somebody walks by. I hear his voice when they are desperately asking for money. I see his eyes in their gaunt, hopeless faces. I see him in their frail, undernourished bodies.
Most of the time people don’t make eye contact with them because they’ve just become part of the local scenery.
The next time you see a homeless person, err on the side of grace. You don’t have to give them money. You don’t even have to give them a second glance but give them a second thought. Say a silent prayer and remember…there but by the grace of God…go I.
These people may be destitute through self-inflicted, irresponsible actions or they may be traveling a path that was carved out for them through absolutely no fault of their own.
They could be veterans who are the very definition of the line in the movie Rambo, when he says…”back there, I was in charge of million dollar equipment….back here, I can’t even hold a job parking cars.”
They could have simply been dealt a crappy hand. They could be somebody who was made to feel so worthless and insignificant that they finally believed it and ultimately gave up.
They could be my son.