Being kind doesn’t cost a thing!
It’s interesting how you can become attached to someone you don’t even know. There’s an older homeless fellow I see from time to time in the vicinity of 11th Street, E. Street, 12th Street, F. Street NW in DC- the general area near the Ford Theater, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, and Macy’s. I’ve mentioned him here in my blog from time to time. He turned 39 on his last birthday. I give him the change in my pocket, usually $2-3 when I have loose bills or I give him a breakfast sandwich from one of the area eateries. Fortunately, DC is not one of the jurisdictions that have criminalized the feeding of homeless residents. But mostly I stop and chat with him. Compassion is what he needs the most, just like all of us. He tells me he appreciates me taking time to stop and talk to him, even if I don’t give him any food or money. He often visits the Martin Luther King Jr. Library around the corner to look for jobs and to work on his résumé. He has even asked me for input and feedback to help him with his job search.
He sells the Street Sense newspaper. If you aren’t familiar with it, this newspaper offers economic opportunities and job skills to the homeless members of the community; the paper features news, editorials, poems and art about homelessness, poverty, and other social issues. I support this venture because the homeless men and women who sell it (they’re called vendors) participate in the production of the paper, and even write about half of the articles, stories, poems, and other prose that are in it. The vendors pay 50 cents for each paper and sell each one for $3. It used to be $2 but inflation, you know? I’m all for helping people who are doing productive things to help themselves.
Well, one day I didn’t see him. But I thought nothing of it. Then another day went by and I didn’t see him. Then another day went by, and then another, and another, and finally two weeks had gone by without me seeing him. That was weird, as I can’t recall going more than three days without seeing him. I had no idea why I was concerned about a person I hardly knew (Note: so if I know you well, don’t think I’m weird if I dote on you excessively given I worried this way about a stranger. I’m just saying.).
My first thought was perhaps something tragic happening to him. Then I thought that maybe he got sick and was hospitalized. I finally thought happily that maybe his job search had been fruitful and he got a gig. When people disappear without a trace, you can create all sorts of scenarios of what might have happened. That’s what I did for him. He was such an interesting person and he had many exciting tales and experiences. He doesn’t know that I know he made up many of the things he told me. Some of the facts and details didn’t add up or some of the details were contradictory. A few things he told me were about events I had personal knowledge about and his telling of those events didn’t match what I knew to be true. I presume he embellished to make himself feel more important or to appear more important to others. That’s alright though, I suppose. I didn’t call him on it like I might have done to a friend or family member. I just listened.
After about a month, I eventually stopped thinking about him. Then suddenly one day, he was there again. Evidently he had gotten a bad case of pneumonia and was taken to a hospital. A family member took him in till he got well again. I told him what I had thought. I told him I even had hoped he found a job and was on his way back to the life he used to have. We laughed and he responded, “I hope that will be the case soon.”
But the point of this is, don’t embrace the stereotype that exists for the homeless. Each person you encounter is a human being, an individual, and showing compassion to someone in need is free.