Today was the first time I’ve helped people who are homeless since I was in a youth group. Fifteen years later, today was a pretty similar, humbling experience. Except, instead of being in San Francisco with my youth group friends, I was in Boston with my friend Caroline, her church friends, and Ecclesia Ministries.
As I was passing out potato chips to people of all ages and ethnicities, several shameful thoughts went through my head. I was FREEZING cold! Out of way too many jackets, today I chose to wear a lightweight “Spring” jacket because it’s technically Spring and I’m a California girl so that’s what I do. NOT the best choice. Throughout the couple of hours in the Boston Common, I tried to ignore the coldness because I just needed to suck it up. Many of these people slept outside during this past extremely harsh winter. I was cold because I didn’t make a good choice when selecting a jacket to wear this morning. How pathetic of me.
Deacon Ken (the organizer of the event) asked the volunteers to grab a sandwich and to spread out amongst those who were eating once finished serving food. When the chips were all gone, I had to figure out who I was going to sit with. Since I had arrived, I had often made eye contact with a man who appeared to be my age. He was wearing a royal blue ski jacket with a ski/ride lift ticket attached. He baffled me; I kept wondering why he was there. If the circumstance had been different, and we were at let’s say a bar, I would have probably wanted him to come talk to me.
But because we weren’t at a bar, I walked over to him, though I didn’t grab a sandwich because I am experimenting with going gluten and lactose free. (Yet another aspect I felt guilty about during this experience. Why should I care about minor digestive issues when these people don’t have a place to live?) I asked the man if I could sit next to him. (My heart was rapidly beating because I was worried he would be annoyed and reject my offer.) Luckily he agreed.
I had noticed that he never got any food but I felt it would have been too motherly for me to ask him about it or to persuade him to get some. Thankfully his friend nearby told him to go get some food; Sean shrugged his shoulders and stated that he was not hungry.
For maybe fifteen minutes, Sean and I had a great conversation. He is such a cool guy! He grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and graduated from high school the year after me. He went to college to become a software engineer but for some reason it didn’t work out. He’s an avid snowboarder and worked at the Canyons Ski Resort, in Utah, for a winter. In the past, he was a professional painter (he practically painted his whole home town) and a semi professional floor tiler. Sean convinced me I should start hiking and to specifically hike up and ski down Tuckerman’s Ravine; he couldn’t believe I had never done so since I’m an avid skier. I told him I’ve been too lazy to hike with my skis and gear but I would seriously consider doing so in the future.
For much of the conversation, I totally forgot he was homeless. I’m not sure what else I would have learned about Sean; but, because the church service started, and I had previously volunteered to hold the music up for the banshee player, I had to leave him.
During the church service, I pondered the idea of giving Sean a room in my house and to try to help him find a job. That thought didn’t last too long because Sean and his friend left halfway through the service.
I’ll probably never see him again. I wish he had stuck around because I would have at least liked to exchange email addresses; but then, I wonder if he even checks his email. (He MUST have an email address, right!?!)
I do not know why Sean is homeless. I do know that he is a kind, intelligent, funny, athletic, passionate and charming man.
All day, I have continuously wondered who failed him. His parents? His teachers? His school system? His health care system? Society?
What can we do to help people who are homeless? What can we do to prevent people from becoming homeless? I REALLY believe that by reforming education, we can help this cause. If schools set up ALL students for success, then no one should become homeless. No one should be homeless.