There are lots of homeless folk in my neighborhood. I started going to a Burger King just down the street and over off the main drag (Rosecrans). About the time I pass there every morning, about a dozen people Begin to gather in that Burger King, eat, talk and catch up with each other for a while before they begin their business on the street.
I've been going there off and on since I arrived last month. At first I listened to the conversation and banter. Then I joined in a few times. Eventually I got to know some people. Today, I sat down with Kevin (not his real name) and had an amazing and much too short chat.
Many unexpected things happened in my encounters there. for one, nobody has ever asked me for anything. In fact, everyone in this ad hoc community is more likely to share rather than beg. Almost everyone is clear headed, aware and articulate as anybody. The conversations are lively, and very enjoyable. I find it hard to pull myself away.
I am not there to give handouts, I'm there to know them. They are my neighbors, and know this neighborhood better than I do. We have something in common. We all live here. And I want to know them as friends and neighbors. I want to know their stories. I think that If I became another friend in that community, I may get an opportunity to help somebody when the need arises as a fellow, trusting and in trust.
Imagine being in a restaurant having breakfast with your friends. A highly affluent person comes up interrupts your conversation, handing you things he thinks you need without even asking. Imagine this person, who knows nothing about you, chiding you for not being affluent like him offering condescending criticism and advice.
What would you think? A person walks up to you in the assumption that you are a moral and practical failure and yet does not know you. This may be true to a point, but, surprisingly, it often is not the case. If it were you, this could be very offensive.
Isn't it strange that someone can make assumptions about homeless people without even knowing or speaking to them. it happens all the time and I have even done it myself. I will never do it again.
To me, it's like a being in a car accident, and while you are hanging upside down bleeding, a state trooper drives up and lectures about your driving without knowing what really happened. Everybody has a story. Everybody has reasons. We don't know until we ask and listen.
So, I connected again with Kevin this week. I learned more about this street community than ever imagined.
Stay tuned. I'll be giving details in an upcoming post "Breakfast Club 2"