An Encounter with a Homeless Man

Last week, when I was in downtown Salt Lake about to enter the building where I work, a homeless man approached me and, in a pleading voice, said that he was very hungry. I was happy to help him get something to eat, and we went into a nearby restaurant.

I was dressed in my suit and he was dressed warmly, but his clothes were shabby and dirty, his face weather beaten, case-hardened. Almost immediately one of the staff asked us to leave. Also, a couple sitting next to us abruptly left the restaurant. I was allowed to buy him something to go, but he was not allowed to sit down and eat.  It was a difficult experience.

I know that many people are afraid of the homeless. I am too. I have been threatened several times by homeless men myself, and I am very careful to not get myself into dangerous situations now. My experience this week was not dangerous, but it was eye opening.

(By the way, I would not recommend that you do what I did unless you feel capable of protecting yourself. In other words, do you know how to run, fast? I’ve had to do it.)

This man—Andy was his name—has lost his dignity and self-respect. And who can help him? There are shelters. There are agencies. I am not sure why he is not getting the help he needs from them, but usually the thing that keeps them from getting help is drugs and alcohol. (And that’s why I only give food or things, not money.)

I cannot judge how Andy got himself to where he is now. I used to judge, but I don’t anymore. I don’t let myself judge.

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance. —Thomas Sowell

I know I am ignorant of Andy’s life experience, and I have learned that we need help from others, no matter our state. My life is run mostly by opinion, and as life goes on, you learn to be more careful about giving out your opinion as fact.

Some people are very independent, strong and capable. Some say they don’t need help from anybody, not even God. But in my view, we all need help. I need it. Andy needs it. Everyone needs it. No matter how proud you are, and how self-sufficient you think you are, you can’t give yourself open heart surgery. You need help from others.

Things arise, monstrosities arise, that keep us from getting the help we need.

Habits. Addictions. Pride. Defensiveness. Hanging onto our weaknesses out of fear of exposing our weaknesses. Ignorance, not because the knowledge we need is not available to us, but because we are too emotionally feeble to seek it. A mind trapped in its own contrivance.

I know a few things I could do to help Andy, but I can’t do everything for him. No one can. In my experience, our Heavenly Father, our all-wise parent, chooses to not do things for us when we can do them for ourselves and most often waits until we ask for His help before He acts. Sometimes we receive His grace without asking, without any forethought, but for the most part, it is—

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. —Matthew 7:7

But sometimes we are so lost, me and Andy. We don’t know what to ask or how to ask it. And we don’t ask often enough, or we don’t have faith to receive. We need help. We all need help.

Where does Andy come down on this? I don’t know. All I can say is that I feel very sad for him, sad for how he must feel, sad for how he is treated and regarded and ignored and shunned. I think about him every day. I don’t fully know what to do about this right now, but I know I am limited by none other than me.

In my best moments, I know Who to ask, and how to ask Him. He is always there. Always. Of that I am certain.

I have work to do. Work alone cannot save me, but it is essential if I want to help others.

One thought on “An Encounter with a Homeless Man

  1. Howard April 15, 2012 / 3:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing your encounter with Andy and your thoughts about it. While I was studying the homeless in Salt Lake I lived in a very cheap motel, but I showered every day, brushed my teeth, used deoderant and my only set of clothes were normally clean, I washed them in the sink every night. But I deliberately did not shave at times to check the reactions of those around me who were better dressed and always seemed to have someplace they needed to be. They often looked away or they looked right through me as if I wasn't there! Few engaged me instead they cultivated the ability to recognize I'm there without actually seeing or acknowledging me. It was condecending and degrading. When I enounter the homeless I normally give them the same eye contact I would anyone else unless they are being loud or acting out, then I ignore them. There are legitimate reasons to not want to be near them in a restaurant they look dirty, unkempt and many of them stink. It isn't appetizing and it isn't good for business. But thank you for getting him something to eat! Occationaly these meetings turn into profound encounters giving reason for much reflection.


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