I Met a Homeless Man Last Night, and It Could Have Been Me.

bench-areaIt’s Sunday afternoon, and my wife texts me. She has been running, and it turns out she stopped to talk to a homeless man on the trail. After I chastised her about approaching strangers, she explained that she had felt God prompting her to interact with him. He wasn’t asking for anything, he was just walking. He seemed nice, and she offered to buy him dinner. The plan was for me to go get some food and meet him at the end of the trail.

15 minutes later I’m at the trailhead with a bag of Chipotle. After a while I wonder if he decided to forgo the free dinner offer. It’s getting dark. The out of the gloom I see a lone figure emerge. We meet at the picnic tables, and the first words out of his mouth are concern about my wife’s safety. He must have said about 10 times how she should be careful talking to men she doesn’t know. She doesn’t normally do this kind of thing, but when God moves, it’s good to listen.

I presented the food and we started talking. He was obviously grateful for the meal, and I got the impression that he would agree to anything I asked. I did not feel any urge to share the entire Gospel presentation with him. Weird, right? Instead I felt confident that any declaration he made for Christ that evening would simply be out of gratitude for the gesture of a meal, and not out of any conviction of the Holy Spirit. Later my wife confirmed she had felt the same way when they first spoke. He knew about religious things. He was open when I told him about a local ministry that can help him, and I know shares the Gospel. But this meeting wasn’t about his salvation. It was about meeting a physical and emotional need. Physical because a man’s gotta eat. Emotional, because people need to talk with other people. So we did, we talked a while.

His story wasn’t so different from many I’ve heard. He had a cash job lined up for this morning. He was new to the area, and really wanted to make it to Shreveport. I told him what I knew about shelters and such in the area. then I asked why he was heading for Shreveport. He didn’t answer that question, but he did tell me how he ended up homeless.

He was a single guy, working where he could. He was working for cash, detailing semi trucks. Got hurt on the job, and there wasn’t any Workman’s Comp for a job like that. 4 months in the hospital; Mounting medical bills and no income. He said he lost his car, his stuff and then his place to live. He’d been living like most Americans, in debt up to his neck, and it was all gone. He never got around to saying what his destination held for him, some glimmer of hope to regain his footing. He’d obviously been out on the road for a while. He said he hoped his work this week would give him enough cash for the $28 bus ticket to Shreveport. He never asked me for anything, and seemed truly grateful for a hot meal on a cool evening.

As I left him to eat his dinner, I couldn’t help reflecting on my own past. When I was single, living up to my neck in debt. I wasn’t working for cash, but I didn’t have health insurance, and when I blew out the ACL on my knee it looked pretty bad. I could have been fired from my job, I might not have had access to a non profit hospital that would write off some of the cost. My employer didn’t have to pay for $5000 of the surgery costs our of his own pocket (and begin providing health coverage). I could have been saddled with the entire cost of surgery/recovery and left with no income, massive debt and no choice but to try to get home to my parents. I don’t think I would have ended up homeless, but things could have been much worse.

When you drive by people on the street, it’s easy to look down and ask why they didn’t do things differently. And there are plenty of so-called “chronically homeless” who don’t want to get off the street. But sometimes it’s just a run of bad luck, and a guy trying to get somewhere that can give him a break, a leg back up into a more normal life.

if a bowl of spicy chicken an give him energy for a day of physical labor, which might lead to a bus ticket, I’m glad to help.

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