I was at the local coffee shop grabbing a cup of joe, hold the half and half, and noticed a homeless man kind of loitering in the street nearby. He seemed out of place, lost maybe, and disoriented. Several of the patrons in the store were snickering and making snide comments about the man. I’d seen him before, but he was never this bad off. I was about to order my breakfast and felt something inside me saying, this just isn’t right.
I went outside and began speaking to the man. Instantly I see he’s prideful and agitated. His clothes are dirty and his shoes are torn and ragged. I looked him in the eyes. What I saw was sadness and desperation. Nevertheless, a man in his shoes, unlike many other homeless folks I’ve met, would not and has not ever asked for money. He cannot work due to physical injuries. I have no idea if he collects welfare. I have my own opinions about the welfare system. I feel I have to pay for everyone who doesn’t work as well as for myself and family, but when you’re right there in the moment, you can’t think about that because it really doesn’t matter then.
I offered to buy the man some food and drink. He refused and became agitated further. Obviously I’d disrespected him. Now an audience had formed at the coffee shop. I felt the stinging glares on my back and heard the giggling. I resisted the urge to identify myself to him and ask him to kindly move along. That was the easy route.
Finally he asked, “What do you care?” When I’d asked him if there was anything I could do to help him.
Hmm, great question I thought. “Because someone has to, right?” He just looked at me funny.
“Listen, bub, why don’t you just leave me be?” He asked. I could tell he was hungry because the people who came outside with muffins and bagels caught his attention. He stared at the food as it went by.
I replied. “I can’t. You might get hit by a car. Why don’t you take a seat,” I said as I pointed at the bench in front of the store. He looked at me and we stared at each other. I could only imagine what was going through his head. He finally went to sit down. He stumbled and began to fall. Without hesitation I grabbed him and dropped some cash on the ground right where he was. No way anyone saw that. A lady came out and helped me stable the man and get him seated.
Once he was content, I pointed to the money and said, “Hey, you dropped some money.” The man looked at the money, at me, back to the money and shook his head.
I shook my head. “Me either.” Obviously this wasn’t going to work. I was frustrated, but determined to find some way to help him. As I struggled for another idea, a man exited the coffee shop and asked if he could help.
“Sure,” I said.
He began speaking to the seated man and he listened intently. The man from the coffee shop offered the man a place to stay and wash up and said he could pick from his clothing and shoes to get him back on his feet. I was shocked. More importantly, the man agreed! I was pretty happy for him, and thankful the stranger came along to help. They turned to walk away.
I shook both of their hands and patted the homeless man on his back. At the same time I slipped some cash in his coat pocket. I’ll never know what happens with him or the money, but it seems by just talking to him, reaching out to him, he will have at least a decent rest of today. And, isn’t that all we can ask for? Just live day by day and try to be happy.
Anyway, I’m a cop and there were several other ways, perhaps even less friendly ways, to have dealt with this situation. However, hiding problems is not the answer. Taking them head on, in my opinion, is the only way to deal with them effectively. Just remember there are plenty of compassionate law enforcement members out there trying to do good things for people.