Last week, I was walking down a street in midtown Sacramento, near some bars and restaurants, going to meet some friends for a late-night snack. It was around 11 at night, and there were a few homeless people standing between where I parked and the restaurant. I noticed one of them, because he reminded me of someone I knew years ago and hadn’t seen in a long time. He mumbled a recited line about if I had any spare change I could help him out with, and I mumbled my standard reply about not being able to help right now. At the risk of sounding like Buzzfeed, what happened next will surprise you.
The homeless man looked at me and called me by name.
No, not my first name. He called me Mr. and my last name. Except for a few friends who find it amusing to do so, the only people who call me by that name are people who first knew me as their teacher.
The homeless man was in fact the guy who I thought he looked like when I first noticed him. He would be about 20 years old now, and he was my class for a few months around 2010. At the time, I was teaching at a small private school that shares buildings with one of the churches that supports it. This guy and two older brothers of his were neighborhood troublemakers, and the pastor of that church and his family kind of took them in and tried to get them involved in things at the church. (Some members of that family read this blog occasionally, so if any of you know more about him and what happened, contact me privately, please.) They raised money to get the kids enrolled in the private school, which is where I met them. Only one of the brothers, the middle one, stayed out of trouble for more than half a year. I would occasionally see the other two around, but I hadn’t seen any of them in a while.
I asked him what happened, and he said his aunt, whom he lived with when I knew him as a student, kicked him out. I gave him a dollar, and I told him that I wasn’t very hungry, so I would order egg rolls and give him half the order.
I have such mixed feelings about this. Throwing money at homelessness doesn’t necessarily fix the problem, but I want to do something to help. Jesus set an example of serving the poor and needy, and I want to follow that example and do the same. I’ve heard people at my old church talk about carrying around in their car nonperishable food items and personal hygiene products, so as to give homeless people something concrete that they need. I should sit down and prepare that, now that I have time.
The egg rolls took long enough that when I went to find him, he was gone. I walked up and down two blocks and the nearby park, and I didn’t find him. I left my leftover egg rolls next to a different homeless guy asleep in the park, but I have a feeling animals probably got them before he woke up. Next time I’m there, I’ll bring something just in case I see him again.