One morning, as the heat of the day began to unfold, I took the necessary steps to get ready for work.
My morning routine was about to get interrupted.
Midway through downtown Tampa, cars were slowly grinding to a halt.
I was eventually stuck in a massive traffic jam with no visible cause for it.
No problem, I thought, and initiated the GPS on my cell phone. Without hesitation, I was directed to take a detour at the next exit.
It turned out that my GPS was also having a bad morning. I was now in an unfamiliar and very congested part of the city.
By now I was quite upset and irritable.
Then I drove by a crowded intersection and waited what seemed forever for the light to turn green. Out of the left corner of my eye I saw a large African-American man in his 60’s on the center-median. He was scruffy looking with a long white unkept beard, and was wheelchair bound.
I have seen homeless people before with signs such as, “Please help. God bless” or “Hungry. Anything helps”. But this man was different. He did not have a sign nor was he making eye contact with anyone.
He was busy feeding pigeons as they fought over the bread crumbs on the ground between his feet.
What struck me was how happy he looked. He was smiling from ear to ear, marveling at the way the pigeons flew around each other. It was when he smiled that I noticed that he was missing his front teeth.
Despite the hard life and violence that he has probably been exposed to (One in five attacks against the homeless in the U.S. have ended in death), he was content to help his little friends by giving them something they needed.
As I watched him I thought, perhaps those bread crumbs were the only food he had for himself that one morning.
I rolled down the window and handed him a $20 bill. He looked at me with a big toothless grin, accepted the money and said “thank you” quietly. Not once did he look at it. It could’ve been a $100 bill and I don’t think he would’ve even noticed.
I am NOT an advocate of reinforcing pan-handling, so you might be wondering why someone in my profession gave him money. Simply because I felt like helping him that day. I could’ve handed him a homeless shelter directory but I did not have one. I could’ve driven away like many others, but decided not to.
During that brief exchange, I saw in his eyes a glimmer of the mystery and wonder we all had as children. That innocence and purity that fades over time, but doesn’t ever go away and hides somewhere in the attic of our minds.
Sometimes, that side of us – the essence of excitement over unfulfilled childhood dreams – shows up for a brief moment in time, paints every room in our soul with the brightest colors, and fades back in the background of our lives.
In those eyes I saw me.
I saw us.
I saw everyone.
An old story…
According to an old legend, the Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great wanted to meet the Greek philosopher Diogenes, also known as the “Richest man in the world”. Diogenes was a controversial man during his time, and made virtue of poverty by living in a tub at a local marketplace.
Alexander found Diogenes laying down one morning taking in the sun. He then asked him if he needed anything.
“Yes, stand out of my sun.” Dioegenes replied with surprising aplomb.
Historians said that Alexander was so impressed by this response, that he said to his followers, “If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes”.
Diogenes became famous for his claim that, “He who wants nothing is the richest man in the world”.
The homeless man seemed far happier that morning than most of us in our fancy cars, despite living in an unforgiving and ugly society.
We have become so accustomed to believing that if we achieve materialistic goals (e.g., pretty house, fast car) we will be happier and live more comfortable lives.
But often times we lose ourselves in the hopeless pursuit of things that have no moral value.
Facts about Homelessness
- The National Alliance to End Homeless reports that there are 636,000 people who are homeless in the United States, and 4 out of 10 are living in the streets, cars, or abandoned buildings.
- 46.2 million individuals live under the poverty limit, up 5.6% from 2009, and the largest number in 52 years according to the United States Census of 2010.
- 58% of the homeless population have difficulty getting food.
- 46% have chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension.
- 22% are mentally or physically disabled.
- 30% of the homeless have a substance abuse dependency.
- 3% have HIV/AIDS.
- Over 1,000 hate attacks against the homeless have occurred since 1999.
- California and Florida have the highest rates of hate crimes against the homeless (e.g., Ronald Poppo as being the latest case. His attacker bit off 50% of his face for 20 excruciating minutes).
- Hate crimes have resulting in 312 deaths since 1999 that included lethal beatings, people being set on fire, and rape.
Help spread homelessness awareness
No one deserves to live in the streets.
No one deserves to live a life of daily humiliation and physical violence.
Fight for the rights of the less fortunate. Help spread homelessness awareness!
How to help:
Don’t Almost Give: www.dontalmostgive.org
Fannie-Mae – Help the Homeless: www.helpthehomelessdc.org
Help Hope Home: www.helphopehome.org
Just Give: Destination for Online Charitable Giving: www.justgive.org
National Alliance to Help Homelessness: www.endhomelessness.org
The Family: Help for the Homeless: www.thefamily.net
United States Department of Veterans Affairs – Homeless Veterans: www.va.gov/homeless
United Way: http://www.unitedway.org
Hate Against the Homeless: An Organizing Manual for Concerned Citizens – National Coalition for the Homeless
Hate Crimes Against the Homeless: Violence Hidden in Plain View – National Coalition for the Homeless
Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States: 2010 – Highlights – United States Census Bureau 2010
The State of Homelessness in America 2012 – The National Alliance to End Homelessness
Who is Homeless – National Resource and Training Services on Homelessness and Mental Illness
Plutarch. The Parallel Lives: The Life of Alexander. Loeb Classical Library Edition, (1919); VII, University of Chicago. Retrieved 6/21/2012 from: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Alexander*/3.html#14