Witnessing Homelessness: A Story of Compassion and Gratitude.

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I recently stayed in a hotel out of state the night before a speaking engagement. I decided to walk to a local market to buy some food rather than go out to eat. It was raining lightly, but enough to need an umbrella. I noticed a pickup truck with a passenger cab in the parking lot of a small park along the way. It looked as if the truck bed contained all of someone’s earthly belongings, uncovered and getting rained on. I spied a few children who looked out of place playing outside in the immediate area in the light rain, one young boy barefoot. I also saw an adult woman and suspected they were a family experiencing homelessness. When I walked back to my hotel from the store, the light rain had turned into a torrential downpour. The truck was still there, the contents getting soaked, and everyone was now in the truck cab. So it didn’t seem appropriate to stop and chat which I was otherwise drawn to do.

I thought about them all that evening and wondered if they would still be there the next day or if they had moved on. So when I was finished speaking at noon, I changed my clothes and took a walk past the park. There the truck still was. I walked past the vehicle this time down a short hill into the park. Two of the children I had seen the previous day were in the park with a blanket set out and playing with each other. I sensed their wariness toward me and asked them if their truck had broken down (to further assess the situation). The older child, a girl of about 12 or 13, quietly said ‘no.’ I asked if they were OK and if they had enough to eat. The girl responded ‘yes’ as the younger child watched carefully. Her response was in a cautious and rehearsed way. So I walked back up the hill and now saw the adult woman with a 3rd child, even younger than the other two, at the truck. They seemed camped out in the parking lot. I asked her if she needed any help. She politely responded, “No.” I asked if I could give her some money for gas and she hesitated and asked if I wanted to buy some greeting cards. Presuming she wanted to ‘sell’ me something rather than just take the money I said “Sure.” She tried to find the cards but could not put her hands on them right away. I pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to her saying, “Let me give you some money for gas. Don’t worry about the cards.” She asked tentatively, “Are you sure?” I replied, “Yes. I see you have some children here.” She smiled slightly and took the money softly saying, “Thank you.” After that, I headed to the airport to return home.

I wish I could have done more and perhaps I could have if I lived in the area. But my heart goes out to them and everyone in their situation. I understand how easy it is to experience homelessness these days. You lose your source of income, then lose your home, have no one to help, and you’re out on the streets. The fact that she had 3 young children with her broke my heart.

Sometimes we have to witness what others have lost to truly appreciate all that we have. Take a moment to be grateful for the roof over your head, having a safe, dry bed to sleep in, and enough food to eat. And don’t forget to extend a little help to those in need, even in a small way. It might help them remember that they are not invisible and that others do care.

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