We are having a cold snap here in Minnesota even though the sky’s are finally blue and the sun is shining brightly. After having lot of gray sky’s and 2 snow storms last week, we have plenty of snow but I would rather it be snowing and a little warmer then blue sky’s with bitter cold.
Whenever it’s cold like this, I find my heart aching for those that call the streets home and are in a constant search of finding a place to warm up. Since I live in the middle of rural Minnesota, we don’t see homeless people very often unless they are passing through and then it’s summer time.
I see homeless people when I travel to one of the bigger cities and it is hard for me to just drive by them. I do fear that if I lived in the bigger city, such as in Minneapolis, I would have a hard time not bringing them into my home for a hot meal, warm shower and warm place to lay their heads. I am told you just get used to seeing the homeless and that after awhile it doesn’t bother you. I suppose this is true but I still have a hard time imaging it not bothering me. My son tells me that I wouldn’t do well living where he did in Florida because there are a lot of homeless people(which makes perfect sense that if you are going to be homeless better in Florida then Minnesota)and it was hard for even him to see this.
I have had two experiences with homeless people that left me changed and with the desire to always do more and.
My very first experience with a homeless person was in Florida, when we took our one and only family vacation, back when my older children were young. We were at a gas station and while my husband put gas in, the kids were getting food out of the coolers as I was waiting to take some of the younger children into the gas station to use the restroom. I was looking out my window when I spotted this elderly woman pushing a grocery cart full of bags towards us. I gasped as I realized this was likely a homeless woman.
She kept walking towards us through this packed and busy gas station. I stared at this poor woman walking towards me. She was so thin and the closer she got, I realized that she was even older than I first suspected. Our eye’s locked as she got closer to us. She started mouthing something to me, so I jumped out of the car and as she got to me I realized that her mouth was so dry that she couldn’t get the words out. She was trying to say, “Water.” One of the kids handed me a bottle of water and I handed it to her. She drank and drank. She stopped and said “Thank you dear one.” before she began to drink some more.
After she drank the first bottle of water, I handed her another. I then handed her a big jug of water which she put inside her shopping cart amidst some bags and cans. She just stood next to our van drinking the water and looking and smiling at me and my family as we all smiled at her. Her clothing and shoes were worn and I wondered if we had anything that would fit her frail thin body. As I scanned her face I speculated that she was at least 70 but looked older than that. What I remember most is the way she looked into my eye’s. It’s was almost eerie…as if she were speaking to me. It felt like her blue eye’s were looking into my soul. My eye’s welled up with tears at the thought of her being homeless.
There was something about her that I just wanted to tell her to get inside our van and come home with us.
I didn’t really know what to say to her, and then it dawned on me to give her some food. I turned around in my seat and asked my kids to make some sandwiches and to put them into a bag for me to give to her. I turned back around to tell her we had some food but in those mere seconds she was gone. I got out of the car and searched for her. It was like she had disappeared into thin air. I walked around the entire gas station and even went inside, all while asking people if they had seen her. Not one single person had seen this woman.
How could no one else have seen her but us? She had walked in front of at least 15 people to get to our car and the parking lot was full of people. After paying for our gas, my husband slowly drove around the neighborhood as we looked for her. She was no where to be found and as I realized this I felt sick. I felt horrible that I had not given her food or even some money for food or water. As we drove away from there I sobbed.
It broke my heart knowing that this elderly woman was out living on the streets. It saddened me that I hadn’t given her food before she disappeared into thin air. Seriously though, how does a person go from standing right outside your van door one second to not being anywhere, less then 30 seconds later?
I’ve never forgotten this woman and it has forever haunted me that I acted too slowly. I’ve prayed for her off and on over the years and I hope that somehow she found her way off of the streets.
My other experience was some years later with a homeless elderly man, in North Carolina. He was standing on the side of the road, holding a sign that said, “I will work for food.” After pulling over and buying him some burgers, coffee and water, I will never ever forget this man as I walked up to him. The smile on his face as he greeted me. And his piercing eye’s.
What is it with people’s eye’s?
As I handed him the food and drink, he asked me if he could do some work for me in payment. I explained to him that my home was in Minnesota and that if I had room in my little car I would bring him back with me and he could be my handyman. He made some remark about it being cold and having a lot of snow in Minnesota and I affirmed that he was correct and that he probably wouldn’t want to live there. He then asked if it was okay if he prayed a blessing on me for my kindness.
I will never ever forget this man’s voice as he prayed for me, my travels and blessings on my life. I will also never forget how his hand that was touching my back, felt like a hot iron burning through me. After he finished praying I gave him a hug and walked away. There was a moment while I was walking away that I wanted to turn around, go back and ask him to come back to Minnesota with me. I did stop and turn back around and he was standing there with one of the burgers already in his hand. He smiled and hollered “Bless you my angel.”, while waving his burger at me.
I cried while driving away that day but for different reasons then with the homeless woman. There was something about this man when he was praying for me that still to this day send chills down my spine when I recall it. He called me his angel but really it felt like he was mine.
What broke my heart even more was the reaction of a woman that witnessed my interaction with this man. She approached me and basically said I should not be involving myself with the “dirt of society”(her words not mine).
Both of these experiences opened my eye’s to the fact that homelessness happens to all ages and how very sheltered I’ve been from this sad reality my whole life. I think the fact that both of them were elderly made it even harder to stomach. Reality is, homelessness exists whether it is because of poor choices or bad luck. Either way it’s very sad. While I know some choose this way of life on purpose, many don’t.
I suppose if I seen this day after day and experienced people begging me for money going to and from work every single day, I would grow immune to it too. When you hear stories of professional beggars and of people not willing to work, it can make us cynical. It can cause us to group all homeless people into the same category instead of seeing them as individuals. And it can make us forget that they are human and that not all of them are out to get something for free.
Yet for the life of me, I cannot imagine the humiliation of having to stand on the side of a busy road holding a sign that says, “I will work for food,” I imagine when one is hungry and desperate enough and has children to feed, they will do whatever it takes to survive.
Could it be that some of them were so down on their luck that when they lost everything, they lost their self worth along the way? Or what if mental illness struck and took over one’s ability to care for themselves and somehow lost their way? These people that didn’t have anyone reaching a hand out to help them get back on their feet, are they worth less than the rest of us? After being alone and down for so long, does one just give up because they’ve lost hope? Do they just settle for a life of homelessness? Do they just stop believing in something more?
What would you or I do if tragedy hit our lives and we lost what we had? What if mental illness had chosen us? What would we do if we found ourselves living out of our car or on the street? With no where to go and with no one to help us?
I am left feeling very grateful that my circumstance in life have not left me baron of shelter from the cold or elements, food for our stomachs, or people that love and care about us….and that we are free of mental illness or disease that can steal our ability to make good decisions…and that we are blessed to know enough people that would take us in before letting us be on the streets.
I cringe at the thought of being homeless, let alone in Minnesota. So today I pray a little harder for those in need of food and shelter from this cold…and for those that are just a step away from homelessness and for those so poor in spirit because of financial distress that they have stopped believing in something more.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t care or that I could numb this ache in my heart for those hurting, sick or less fortunate. I keep wishing to do more but as hard as I try to do little things to make a difference it almost seems futile.
I don’t know what the answer to this issue is but I do know that looking at them as the dirt of society is not the answer nor is pretending that they don’t exist. Poor choices or not, are they not human beings?
Until next time, hugs & love, Lori