I just had the most awesome “chance” encounter with this lovely lady!
Meet Sister Eileen! She is a Sister of Mercy in Bridgeport, CT. I’m ordering a latte at Source Coffeehouse and she walks in with a big empty tupperware container, so I say she must be pretty hungry to be loading up on baked treats. She informs me that Source awesomely donates day-old pastries and muffins that she then brings to the homeless in Bridgeport.
Because I know how the Universe works, I say, “Of course you do!”, since I have l always felt like I’m supposed to help the homeless in some way, especially after returning from the RSA Conference in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. where the homeless problem is so rampant and utterly heartbreaking, ranging from people doing heroine in the streets to women and children sleeping on the sidewalk.
On my last day in SF, I was walking into the St. Regis hotel, where paradoxically, a homeless man was sitting against the wall with tears streaming down his face, absolutely grief-stricken. He didn’t have a sign or a cup for donations. He wasn’t asking for anything.
I crouched down and put my arm around him to see how I could help and realized there wasn’t a solitary thing I could do or say to console him, nothing I could possibly give to him that could console this fellow human being. His heart was literally broken in half. His spirit was broken. And so, my heart was broken too. And the tears began to stream down my face because whatever cash I had in my purse or any food I could offer him could not alleviate the suffering this man has endured from losing his wife who had died and the gaping hole that left in his soul.
Who knows if she died as a result of living on the street, or quite possibly, if her death, and an unfortunate series of ensuing circumstances, led to this man being without a home to live in, a bed to sleep in, and enough food to eat. Does it really matter?
People continued to walk by without seeming to notice the agony this man was in. A nice professional woman then stopped to console both of us, and said to me “You clearly don’t live here”, acknowledging the inevitability of the need to harden one’s heart or make rationalizations when faced with the massive hardship and anguish of our fellow humans all around us. She understood how disconcerting it would be for someone who lives in suburbia somewhere to witness this homeless epidemic and the shocking polarity between the wealth and poverty that is intertwined in such a city. This woman has a big heart and the social services resources in her phone to reach out to when she witnesses such grave scenarios, which she offered to him, but all this man could do is let his sorrow pour out, and truly, all we could do is be present for him, rub his back, and send love to him.
It has always perplexed me why people are so judgmental about homelessness, making assumptions about what led to their, perhaps, “self-inflicted”, misfortune. If you ever stop and talk to a homeless person, however, you will find quite a wide-range of unfortunate circumstances, usually a series, that led to the shocking reality of not having enough resources to make ends meet, from loss of a job and living in an expensive city like San Francisco or NY that even though they got back to work, they never recovered financially, to loss of a loved one, physical illness, mental illness, and addiction. And of course, there are our Veterans who return home from serving their country only to find themselves in a world of struggle and their pride stripped away, despite years of going on job interviews, but still finding himself unemployed, like this nice gentleman who sits outside our CyberSN office on Boylston Street every day. It was still cold when I met him in March, and the main thing he wanted, other than a job, was a warmer coat with a zipper that worked because it was so damn cold out.
One of these situations is devastating enough, but when it’s combined with any others, it can create a domino effect that leads to the frightening reality of how quickly we can lose everything, especially for those that don’t have much to begin with.
Add real estate companies in the major cities that keep gobbling up the low-income housing to build shiny new corporate buildings and high-end apartment complexes that continue to force the already marginalized of society further and further to the outskirts of the cities and onto the streets.
Numerous Lyft and cab drivers I have recently traveled to recently, including, DC, Chicago, and Austin tell me that these driving gigs are 1 of 3 jobs they hold down to barely make ends meet in the ever-increasing cost of living in these cities, while putting kids through college and sending money back to their home countries, like this fine man from Africa, who drives a cab in Austin, and is building a school for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.
One Lyft driver in San Francisco told me he became homeless for a couple of months because of the tearing down of the low-income housing in favor of new construction, and he says the way he survived is because he kept telling himself over and over again, “It’s only temporary”. He is off the streets now, but indeed, hustling 3 jobs to barely pay his bills.
Perhaps our unconscious fear or knowing that so many of us are closer to that reality than we would ever care to recognize or admit, makes it easier to make judgements or assumptions of how he/she has ended up in their predicaments to begin with.
People say they don’t want to give money, even an inconsequential $1 bill, to someone on the street because, “they will just use it for booze or drugs”. Yet, how many people do you know personally who use alcohol and/or recreational or prescription drugs to escape their myriad of less painful realities by self-medicating? And who’s to say what they would do if they were homeless? Nobody can say.
If you don’t want to give money to a homeless person, offer to buy them a meal, a warm drink, or even a smoothie. Two days before this incident in SF, I bought smoothies for 3 jovial, open-hearted, positive homeless men who have been living on the streets for years. Talking to these guys was the highlight of my RSA Conference experience, because as I so often attempt to impart on my kids, we show kindness to others to lift them up, yet we are the ones who end up feeling uplifted, because we are wired to be generous and connected. Just look at the smile on thse guys faces. Doing good feels good.
Next time you see a homeless person, just stop and talk to them and ask them what they need. Often times they will tell you they are just happy to be acknowledged, and that you stopping and asking the question and smiling at them is really what they needed, and that kindness, 100%, matters, 100% of the time, forever and always.
As for Sister Eileen, The Kindness Solution will be teaming up with her to help and connect with the homeless of Bridgeport by collecting furniture, bedding, and toiletries, so stay tuned for ways to help and please comment or message me if you would like to get involved!