Earlier this week, my husband finished painting over our green walls in our old apartment while I sat back and watched/took photos like any helping wife. After we were done, we walked into the storage area to make sure our storage was completely cleared out. (Yes, we had stuff in storage: holiday boxes and patio/gardening supplies.) The locked storage units are located in an unlocked room across the hall. We walked in at, flicked on the lights, and startled a young man that was in the room. He was wearing a black t-shirt, baggy pants, and standing near a sleeping bag and pillow on the floor. We were shocked and confused, so we checked our storage, mumbled some apologies, and left the room. On our way home, my husband suggested that he was homeless. It hadn’t crossed my mind — I assumed his girlfriend kicked him out of an apartment or something like that. At that point, I wondered aloud, “Why didn’t we ask him if he needed anything? We should have said something to him.” We didn’t go back to check on him and I forgot about him until this morning.
On my way to work today, I noticed a similar-looking man sitting on a sleeping bag under an overpass. I immediately thought of the guy in the storage unit — I’m pretty sure it was the same person. I don’t know if it was, but it made me consider my actions. Or rather, my lack of actions.
Why didn’t we ask him if he needed anything? Why didn’t we find out his story? Offer him some water? Food? Possibly offer our empty apartment to him for one night? Why didn’t we do something? Just for a few moments. Was that the same person? Where would he be today if we said something to him? Why did we just walk away? Since when am I the kind of person to walk away? I was mentally kicking myself for not doing anything.
So, in my car, I prayed for him. I prayed that he would find a comfortable place to sleep. I prayed for a chance to see him again so I could say something to him. I prayed for someone to help him. As expected, I didn’t see him under the overpass on my way home. Maybe I’ll see him again, maybe I won’t.
I know that he is just one of thousands of homeless people across the United States. I know that I can’t help everyone. But I can help one. And another. And another. Possibly another. Somehow. And each life will be changed, even if just for a moment. Every action is powerful.
I am writing this for myself and for you. Next time you come across someone with a little longing in their eyes, a story they want to share, or someone on a park bench with all their belongings — stop. Say hello. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them if they need anything. Do something. Don’t walk away like I did.