photo credit: Pixabay
Is there anything sadder than the sight of homeless people struggling through the wind and snow? Recently we had to make the trip to Edmonton yet again for medical reasons. Two men captured my attention and my concern. One was standing near a busy intersection with a cardboard sign in his hands: “Fallen on hard times, please help”, it said. It was cold and dark. Winter is upon us. He wasn’t very old but his frame was stick-thin and I suspect he fell on hard times long ago and has yet to find a way out. We were in the far lane and would not have been able to stop as much as I wanted to. The image of this young man is burned into my brain. He didn’t seem much older than my own son and he haunts me. We don’t have a lot. We are far from wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. But we have food, clothing, and shelter. We do not have to stand out on the street in all kinds of weather hoping for help; subsisting on the kindness of others. I feel so helpless and all I can do for this young man is pray for him.
My reaction to a second man, to my shame, was initially fear. I had gone outside to move the car to a handicapped parking space as they were all full when we first arrived. As I put the car in reverse, I saw a man motioning in my rear-view mirror. I wasn’t sure if he was attempting to get my attention or not. I cautiously opened the door as he approached while a litany of past news stories of car jackings and much worst rolled through my mind like some kind of horrific power point presentation. My fear was ordering me to close and lock the door; to ignore this man until he went away. I didn’t. Instead I looked up into his face wondering what he could possibly want.
What he wanted was help. He told me a story about his car being broken into and the thief making off with his belongings, including his wallet with all his credit cards, debit card, and identification. He asked if I could please give him enough money for a few litres of gas and a meal. But I had left my purse and belongings in our room – I hadn’t planned to do anything other than move the car. I apologized and explained I had no money on me, nor a debit card either. His expression told me he didn’t believe me. He walked away and I reversed out of the space. I parked in the desired space fear still niggling at me. I searched the parking lot for him but he had disappeared. Was his story true? I don’t know. But he was a human being in need of help – help I could not offer, at least not initially. I had thought to go up to our room and come back down with perhaps a hot coffee and money. I am the type of person who needs time to process information before making a decision – my decision came too late. He was gone. As I walked back to the hotel, I searched the parking lot and street. There was no sign of him anywhere.
Homelessness can happen to anyone anywhere and at any time. Life can be so precarious, especially for those battling addictions or mental illness. It is regrettable that my initial reaction is fear. I am trying to overcome that. I work at a library where several regular patrons are homeless. I have no fear of any of them and never have. Yet, a stranger, a homeless stranger, still triggers my flight or fight response. I think a lot of that is due to portrayal in media and movies of homeless people as being dangerous and not to be trusted. That needs to change. For now I pray, for that young man, for the man in the parking lot, and for myself: Please, God, help me overcome it. And please, Divine One, help those who are trapped in the unfortunate circumstance of homelessness.