I am ashamed. I feel lame and weak. I am inadequate. I feel I am not quite a good enough human being.
In June, just after 8 pm, while walking at Liberty Park, I noticed a man with 3 suitcases walking through the park toward a bench. The man appeared clean, shaven, wore khakis and a clean, pressed blue dress shirt. The man did not look homeless, yet it was obvious he was going to spend the night on the bench. He was a black man who seemed to be between 25-35 yrs. old.
Just after 8 am the next morning, the man was at the bench changing his shirt and packing his suitcases. There was a young woman walking ahead of me. As we passed by, the man, as he was buttoning up his shirt, said something to her. I did not hear his words, but I got the impression it was rude or inappropriate by the way the young woman tried to ignore him and steel herself by fixing her gaze straight ahead and tightening her shoulders.
When he was finished packing his items, he slowly walked through the park and lingered in the parking lot. His lingering apparently made another woman uncomfortable, because she called the police. By the time the police arrived, of course, the man was gone.
The 2 policeman came near the walking path and told me the woman said the man “wrote down her tag number and was rude to her.” Maybe so. I did not see any of that as I was walking the half-mile loop around the park. “He is not homeless,” one of the policeman told me. “He has a home. We have had problems with him before.”
The woman who called the police appeared to be a middle-aged lady. Her car was a white, newer Mercedes SUV. After a short consultation with the police, she got in her car and drove away.
I have been back to Liberty Park to walk in the evenings many times since this “incident”. I have not seen the man again. I have seen many people playing Pokemon Go, though! Even though I have not seen the man again, I have thought about that evening/morning often.
I suppose I have been trying to reconcile, in my own middle class and middle-aged way, homelessness, mental illness, class, race and equality. That is a whole lotta issues for one walk in the park!
I do not believe there is one big answer to stopping homelessness, aiding the mentally ill, closing the divide between class or race or promoting gender equality. I do believe there are many little answers.
When my daughter was in middle school, she participated in Upward basketball. During the season, the teams would have a food drive for the local food bank. One year it was macaroni. Another year it was ramen noodles. When Anne Marie and I drove the donations to the dock of the food bank building, 2 men quickly unloaded the back of my car. “That’s it?” she said. “That’s how easy it is? No one should be hungry if that’s all you have to do.”
Our drive home was spent discussing how if every household would contribute just a few cans of food, the food bank would always be full and there would be no hunger. Out of the mouths of babes… Yet how gratifying would it be if the simplicity of Anne Marie’s idea was all it would take.
Kohl’s Dept. Stores has what I consider a unique and engaging corporate donation program. The Associates In Action program works like this: If 5 Kohl’s associates give 3 hours of their time to a non-profit in their community, Kohl’s will donate $500 to the non-profit.
The AIA concept is a win-win for all concerned. First, Kohl’s associates are engaged in a community event. Not only will they feel a connection to their own town, they will feel the satisfaction that can come from giving back. Second, with every Kohl’s store participating in local non-profits, the company is able to touch nearly every area of the U.S. as Kohl’s has over 1100 stores nationwide. Third, the non-profit gets $500 and Kohl’s gets goodwill and probably some tax write-off, but I do not know a thing about corporate tax code.
Just days after my encounter with feeling lame, weak and inadequate, I called the Salvation Army to see if they needed any volunteers. I began helping with the weekly food box program. Each Wednesday, for just a couple of hours, I help fill between 40-70 boxes with non-perishable food that is distributed on Thursday morning.
I believe in the power of the individual.
I believe in volunteerism.
I believe I am still inadequate and not quite good enough.
But I also believe that all the many little answers to all the many big problems of homelessness, hunger or race relations lies in each of us.
We are often insufficient, feeble and failing human beings, but we still wake up to a new day, and we need to ask: How can I help?