A letter to the homeless man on the corner

Hi sir. We met but for a quick moment on the street corner last night. I saw you there a few days ago too, and teared up at your downcast eyes, your dirty clothes and the words you mumbled but I couldn’t hear.

I’ve seen so many men and women like you during my five day stay in your lovely city of San Francisco. I live in a suburb of Chicago and I’m shielded by the sadness and desperation of the homeless on the daily. I see it and feel the same pangs of angst and frustration and helplessness when I visit my sweet city. I give money when I have it and say prayers that those I see will find peace and warmth. It never feels like enough.

Yesterday, when I gave a coffee and snacks to the woman who sat in your place, it didn’t feel like enough. Even  when I bought my decadent coffee drink and brought you a bottle of water and a sandwich, it didn’t feel like enough. You smiled and looked at me with glassy eyes and said “Thank you, thank you so much.” It still didn’t feel like enough.

I left the city this morning so grateful for a lovely spring break with my family. So high off the fumes of togetherness and reconnecting with my hubs and teenagers. I left too, with your downcast eyes committed to memory. When driving through the sunny streets of San Fran, we witnessed hundreds of homeless, lined up around the corner, waiting to gain entry to a shelter to shower and have a meal.

It broke my heart. The shower and the meal? Is that enough? It can’t be. But is it? What can I do sir? I can continue to pay attention to you when I see you and not look away. I can buy you some food when I can. But what else? I’m stirred. Do I volunteer at a soup kitchen? Do I send in donations? Do I gather supplies and dole them out in the city once a month? Is that enough? What is enough?

I started a bit of reading about homelessness in San Fran and my home city. Sadly, there are more than 6,000 homeless people in San Francisco and in the 2014-15 school year, more than 125,000 in Chicago according to the Chicago coalition for the homeless.

What else can I do for you Sir? I can’t sit here and pretend seeing you and briefly interacting with you didn’t happen. I can’t erase your mumbling or your thank you from my ears. So what can I do now?

I suppose I will start with this blog. I will continue to see the homeless with respect. I will continue to teach my kiddos about compassion. But I am open to suggestions about what more I can DO. Because none of this seems like enough.

What are your thoughts on the homeless issues in our cities? Do you have ideas on ways to help? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

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