I remember the first time I saw a homeless person. I was young, and we went to Minneapolis, MN for a weekend with a bunch of our family. There was shopping for the women and a Twins’ baseball game for the men and kids. As we were walking to the baseball game, I remember my uncle saying, “Okay kids, there are going to be people on the sidewalks asking us for money as we walk by. Just ignore them, don’t look at them.” So, that is what we did.
Since that day, as I have visited other cities, I always think of my uncle saying that to me. San Diego, Las Vegas, Houston, Denver, Raleigh … it was always my uncle’s voice that I heard in my head, saying “Just ignore them, don’t look at them.”
In Boulder, Colorado, the homeless people hang out in the downtown square and play Chess and guitar. In Galveston, Texas they sleep under the rocks near the Seawall. Here in Wilmington, NC, most of them live downtown. We have one in our neighborhood though, he lives just down the street. He looks kind of like Santa Claus.
One day last summer, we were coming out of the grocery store with some groceries and some beer. Marshall gave him a beer and told him to have a good day. One other day, it was about 105 degrees outside and I saw him sitting on the sidewalk at the CVS. I gave him $5 and told him to have a good day, and he said, “Thank you ma’am, I feel like a french fry sittin’ out here.”
This guy, let’s call him Joe. Joe doesn’t ask for money. He doesn’t hold up signs asking for food. He just lives there, somewhere near that intersection, where there is a CVS, a grocery store and a McDonald’s. I would imagine people like Marshall and me, who see him out there regularly, give him money just like I did that day last summer.
I saw Joe in the grocery store one day. He was buying a 40-ounce can of beer, a loaf of bread and a package of toilet paper. Good choices, in my opinion. Have you ever wondered, if you had only $5.00 to spend at the grocery store, what would you spend it on?
I wonder about Joe. Has he ever been married? Does he have any children? Where is his family? Why is he homeless? How long has he been homeless? Where does he sleep? Does he have any friends? Where does he bathe? What does he eat and how often does he get to eat? Has he always been in Wilmington? What did he do before he was homeless?
Have you ever seen a homeless person and instead of “just ignoring them” and “not looking at them,” actually thought about their story? Maybe told them to have a good day? Maybe slipped them some spare change? Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times when you should take my uncle’s advice, but not with the people like our Joe.
I wonder about Joe. Maybe someday I’ll ask him about his story. He could have the best story in the world.
* Note: This original post was written on September 1, 2009. On November 11, 2009, I discovered that our Joe passed away about 2 months ago. The local grocery stores hung a flyer on their bulletin boards letting everyone know that Joe had left us.