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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homeless in Minnesota

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

 

37 comments:

Busy Bee Suz said...

Lori, my last thought as I have been going to sleep at night is worrying about the homeless.
It has gotten cold here, and we have a large homeless population.
I think the reason you remember their piercing eyes with the people you have interacted with is because our eyes tell our story. Good or bad. Bless you. Bless those with no where warm to sleep.

Colleen said...

So sad Lori. I believe that even the smallest action makes a difference at least for a short time in that person's life and I think in those two lives, you made such a difference. You showed love and compassion.
Such a sad world.

kcinnova said...

I lived and worked in a large city and I never got used to seeing homeless people on the streets. Never.
Poor choices, bad choices, bad luck, and mental health issues are all often at the center of homelessness. It's easy to turn our heads and look away. Taking off our blinders and recognizing this reality is the first step toward compassion. It could happen to any of us.
The first woman you described sounds like an angel. "I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink" (Matthew 25:35) You did that. Your eyes and heart were open(ed).
Perhaps the greatest gift, even more than the water, was the gift of looking these individuals in the eye and truly seeing them as people.

Brian Miller said...

beautiful post...what we dofor the least of these...you are an ispiration and it can very easily become us...

LauraX said...

oh lori, your heart is the finest spun sugar...not gold, but sweetness... in the first story you told of the old woman...this is a classic tale of a meeting with an angel or a tzadik/saintly being...you draw goodness toward you, because you are good, kind, loving. And we must all do what we can to reach out and help others whenever possible...just as you did and do every day of your life.
gentle steps

jpooh said...

Lori, you are likely the kindest and most generous-hearted person I've ever met. Bless you, dear.

Jan

blueviolet said...

I've been thinking about this lately too as the weather has been so cold. You did the sweetest thing and I like that you gave her water and not money. :)

Natalie said...

I am sure both were literally angels.It is my opinion that they walk amongst us in order to help us grow.
Lori, To look humanity in the eye and not turn away, that is the mark of unconditional love. I want to cry, not so much for them, (though it is often so tragic) but for the beauty I perceive in you. Please never change. ♥

slommler said...

They are human beings and they deserve kindness and respect. I believe those that you helped were angels and they have blessed you more than you blessed them!!
It has been bitterly cold here too...even though the skies are blue and sunny...it is very very cold.
I will remember this post as I see the next sign or person standing on the street. I will not ignore but give what I can. It is a sad state of affairs for sure.
Thanks you!!
Hugs
SueAnn

SciFi Dad said...

When I was in my early twenties I lived in downtown Montreal. I never got used to seeing the homeless; it always broke my heart.

When I could (I was a student with little back then), I would buy some meals or give them some money, but it never felt like enough.

beth said...

our homeless shelters are filled....it's become an epidemic for so many areas and it's so sad, especially this time of year.

Buckeroomama said...

We need more people with hearts as big as yours, with spirits as generous as yours. Bless you!

ladyfi said...

Oh, I so agree with you. I*ve been thinking about this a lot, especially after meeting a kneeler - someone kneeling bareheaded and remaining as still as a statue. We gave him food and drink and money.

Afterwards, I heard lots of people saying that these poor people are working for scammers who fleece the beggars only leaving them a small amount of money. And yet, I wonder why people don't at least speak or smile or give them some food. It's freezing cold here and no one chooses to live like this.

Just imagine how desperate they must be!

I'm so glad you shared your heartfelt stories with us.

Suldog said...

Excellent post, Lori.

I play fast-pitch softball every spring and summer. In one league I have played for, and managed, the same team for 17 years. One of my regular teammates was a homeless man. That is, he lived full time at the Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter in Boston. Very nice man, heck of a pitcher, easily past 50 when I first met him. He'd always be the first one to the ballpark for our weekend games, which started at 9am. Speculation was that he slept at the park on those nights, but I never wanted to embarrass him by asking too much about it.

The way I found out he was homeless was when I asked for phone numbers to contact guys. He was a bit sheepish about it, then he told me he could be reached at the shelter sometimes, but had no other way to be contacted.

I'd help him out here and there, by giving him a ride after games or maybe buying him a post-game meal. Again, though, I never wanted to embarrass my teammate, so it was always a casual offer, and I didn't want him to feel he was lesser.

He finally retired from the team a couple of years back when he had to have a double knee replacement. By that time, he was able to be collecting some social security and disability payments he had coming, and he 'retired' to a small apartment of his very own in a very poor neighborhood.

Whenever I see someone homeless, I think of him and what a nice guy he was.

Corinne Rodrigues said...

Lori - You have the kindest heart...hugs...I loved reading this post of yours and can so empathize with your feeling of helplessness when you can't really help someone as much as you would like to. Beggars are a common sight in India, and still it's hard to get immune to another human being needing to beg - even if at times it's to feed an addiction......
Loved your post about your daughter. She's a lucky woman to have a wonderful, loving Mom like you.
Love and hugs...

Michelle said...

Lori
You have such a huge (and beautiful) heart.

I was very impressed by something Mother Teresa once said on TV. A rather snooty journalist was interviewing her and made a sarcastic comment that we couldn't all give up our lives and go help the poor in India. Mother Tersa smiled and replied (roughly what I remember) that we don't have to. All we have to do is love and take care of our families, because then they grow up into good loving people who have their own loving caring families... and caring families make caring comunities... and caring comunities make caring towns... and if everyone did just that much there would be no need for people like her to go across the world to take care of poor/sick people.

You don't have to do big to start a miracle. Every day you share one moment of love with the little ones, your family, your friends... you make a whole ripple of good that can keep on spreading out way further than you might ever know or dream of.

And I totally agree with Kcinnova - my first thought was that your first old lady was an angel. Seriously.

((hugs))

Kathryn Magendie said...

Hugs to you -- the lady was searching for you and found you . . . I love that you looked at her, really looked.

Loz said...

You are a better person than I am Lori

ain't for city gals said...

I cringe at the thought of being homeless...I just don't think I would survive it...how do they? Even when I am driving at night and it is cold..by arizona standards...I think of the homeless and how they are making it that night...everyone deserves a place to stay and foood to eat...

Yolanda said...

I do too. How horrible it much be with the cold weather and such a sweet heart you have.

TechnoBabe said...

Hugging someone human being to human being is what it is all about I think. No one is better or worse than the next one. We all matter. We are all connected. Your love for all people is an inspiration.

Garnetrose said...

It is sad that in a country as great as ours that there are homeless people. We don't see them in the small towns but when I go down to Pittsburgh and some of the other cities, they are there and my heart aches for them. It is kind of you to show love and compassion for them. You are a good person.

Hilary said...

Such an inspiring post, Lori. Your kind heart touches so many.

Kit Kat said...

Lori, You have such a big heart! I just wanted to thank you for your kind words these past couple of weeks. I have been going through a really tough time, and I don't think I have told you how much your words have helped me.
I am doing better! I am thankful for what I have.
This post, among many others, makes me realize how blessed I am, and wonder what I can do to help.
Thank you for being you!

otin said...

Some people are homeless because of misfortune, while others end up there for other reasons. Sometimes it's hard to tell who you are dealing with. I admire your kindness and generosity.

Fragrant Liar said...

Oh, no, don't stop caring! We need people to care, or what kind of society would we be? Of course, we could be better than we are now. Instead of giving tax breaks to rich people who don't need it, we could give that money to facilities that take care of such people. I know lots of those homeless folks are mentally ill, but many are also down on their luck and never would have imagined themselves on the street, once upon a time. I have four daughters, so I doubt I'll ever have to worry about it, but homelessness could happen to anyone, given the right/wrong circumstances. You are a kind and loving woman, and that is your greatest asset! :-) xo

addhumorandfaith said...

In the Bible it says "when you have done it for the least of these you have done it for me (Christ)". The two people you encountered may have been angels sent to pique your awareness of "the least of these".

God bless your caring heart.

Linda said...

Lori, your caring heart and empathy for others will cause you pain, but it is such a blessing to those it touches. May God bless you for the kindnesses you show to others.

Cricket said...

This is a wonderful, powerful post and, as you have said to me, today I have been blessed to read it. Bravo and congratulations on your potw. Truly well-deserved.

I have lived in one major city or another all my life and have met many homeless folks, and even gotten to know some of them. As kcinnova said, you don't truly get used to it. Even so, if you gave money to everyone who asked you'd soon go broke.

Still, it can help, I think, just to treat these people as people, as fellow human beings. I've found that is at least something, something they do not always get - a conversation... something to remind them that they are still fully human.

When you hear stories of professional beggars and of people not willing to work...

In my experience, such creatures are so rare as to be nearly fictional. They are creations of right-wing rhetoric more than anything else. Remember, Reagan's "Cadillac driving welfare queens" were a complete lie. Not that anyone cares.

OK, I want to write a comment, not a post of my own here. Anyway, thanks for this post, and congrats on your potw.

Maggie said...

I see homeless here everywhere. We have shelters, but the homeless still line the streets. There's a new class of them here at the beach. They want to be where they are, they bully those who want to help, and they laugh at you. They've been known to beat up other homeless. They aren't drunks or druggies like the old style homeless. Those can be helped, can be fed too. Not these new ones....and it's scarry. They are so very young.

Cricket said...

As if my first comment wasn't long enough....

One thing I forgot; something that I'm sure has occurred to you, and that I like to keep in mind for myself

How many paychecks am I away from homelessness? Three? Four? Really. It wouldn't take that much, a sudden death, a lost job, a major illness?

I think most of us are a lot closer than we'd like to believe.

Once again, great post. As you can see, it's been on my mind today.

Joanna Jenkins said...

This is a beautiful post Lori. Your heart is so big and I admire you for it.

Congratulations on you Post of the Week from Hilary. It's well deserved.

xoxo jj

Frank Baron said...

You weren't too late with the woman in the parking lot. You were just in time. Believe it - it's true.

I think you're probably right that the man who accepted your hospitality had some magic about him and "angel" is as good a word as any.

In fact, I'm fairly certain that both of them were angels and they recognized you as one of their own.

VM Sehy Photography said...

Coming over from The Smitten Image. This is a very thought provoking post.

Unfortunately, if you live in a larger city you learn to ignore the homeless. It's a matter of survival. You get hit up for money just to buy booze. Or you meet a lovely gentleman like I did while studying in London who threw pennies at me because I would never stop and give him money. No, because whenever I walk by, you start swearing at me. Get Sober. You learn fast to tell the homeless from the scam artists. Here in Bozeman, no one looks homeless. The police have asked people not give money because more than likely they are part of a ring that scams people, not actually someone who is homeless. Sad.

Not all of my interactions with the homeless end with such heartlessness however. Once while living in southern california, we encountered a homeless couple who were doing their laundry at the laundromat. We'd seen them around town. And like your homeless people they were probably in their 70s somewhere. They seemed harmless enough. They went outside to sit on the bench because it's always nice in souther california. About a minute later we hear some shouting and look up to see some teenage boys tossing eggs at them. These eggs were hitting the window so hard I thought it would break. I think the gentleman got hit so he probably covered the lady. Like those brats would know anything about chivalry. We went outside to make sure they were OK. And wanted to know if they would like to call the cops. They said they would but they used all their money to do the laundry. We loaned them a quarter for the pay phone. It was the least we could do. We also helped describe what happened to the cops. I hope those kids got what they deserved. Somehow I doubt it, though.

Travel Nurse Extraordinaire said...

It is very sad. We are taught not to make eye contact, if you are to cross paths with homeless. Sadly you will never know how a homeless person could react. One person's poor reaction will cause enough of a reputation to ruin people's chances of ever reaching out again.

I grew up in the suburbs just outside Philly. We frequently went into Center City, where seeing homeless people was constant. I had mostly bad experiences and I was convinced it was best to ignore them.

The other day while visiting DC, a man approached me very timidly inside of a Starbucks and I gave him money for coffee. I was certain he was homeless or at least destitute enough to beg inside a Starbucks. He brought me back change and took off before I could tell him to keep it. I didn't report him for bothering me.

I do frequent cities and metropolitan areas and I can tell you these people are often mentally ill and unpredictable.

The best way to ever help these people is in a safe environment through an organized group. They can make sure the money and food goes towards people who need it and offering them real assistance to get off the streets which can be just as dangerous to them as well, being surrounded by unstable people.

Unknown said...

this is another good reason to over throw the government they don't care about the people in this country their to busy trying to impress other countries by giving them money

Paradyme said...

I'm in a homeless crisis now with my four kids. We have slept on the streets one night and then thankfully friends were able to come up with hotel money for a few nights. This is beautiful. Unfortunately I don't think many of us think about it until it happens to us.