Thursday, January 29, 2009

On again at the off-ramp

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about a homeless man. This week, I was going to write about another homeless guy (an inspirational piece), but that will come next time around. I chose to write about the same man because I had questions about why he was always present at an intersection when I passed by, as well as about how I could help him and whether I should. Well, today, I finally had an opportunity -- albeit a brief one -- to talk to him.

The man is usually at the intersection of Moross and I-94. He is there rain, sleet or snow. He's as regular as a postal carrier. Regular in the chronological sense, that is. He sits in grass, or mud, or snow and frigid weather, as was the case today. He looks sad, disheveled and hopeless. If he's playing a part, he plays it well. He makes you want to give him some money, or buy him a meal or offer him a ride.

But I never stopped to offer assistance, because I donate substantial money each year that funds a number of agencies and programs that help individuals who are homeless. I also donate quite a bit of my time to helping the homeless. I figure I do my part. Still, I find it a bit uncomfortable to pass him so frequently and do so little. Today, I changed that. I offered him, what I hope to be a lifeline.

It was a small gesture, maybe even an experiment, I told myself. I gave him a card advertising United Way's 2-1-1 helpline, along with some money to make the call. I hope that he will dial the service up.

My next encounter with him will include a conversation about whether he made the call, and if so, what happened. It would be great if I never happen to see him again because he received the help he needs. Somehow though, I have a feeling that will not be the case.

In an age when many people we know are a disaster away from being homeless --more than 71,000 jobs lost in a day last week is a testament to that fact -- I hope we find a way to assist all those families who will need propping up. The issue confronting us is that service agencies are strapped, and will be even more so for the foreseeable future. President Barack Obama is asking for $819 billion to stimulate the economy, and there's no assurance that will be enough. Ouch!

Part of me is convinced it's a racket the guy at the freeway off-ramp is running, but the Christian in me hopes he is just desperate and doesn't know how to get the help he needs. Time will tell.

I'll keep you posted.

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