This week I experienced two unexpected encounters with homeless individuals. This occurrence is not foreign to me for I live in a city where many homeless individuals and families reside. Boulder is a place that is popular with tourists. It is also losing its middle class due to the extremely high cost of living. What brings me to share these encounters is the poignancy of these chance meetings.
A woman approached me near a restaurant on Sunday morning. I noticed she had asked people standing and sitting outside the restaurant waiting to dine if each of them could spare a dollar for food for her children in the car. No one said yes.
As she walked toward me, I wondered what my response should and would be. I weigh each person’s request, whether it originates from a person panhandling with a sign or from the direct asking from someone. This woman looked worried in a different sense to me – in a way that struck a familiar chord.
I stopped and listened to her explanation. This stranger left a domestic violence (DV) relationship two weeks earlier. She had a 14 year old child and a younger child accompanying her. Although she had a car, she was running out of money to buy gas.
The children needed food and one had a medical issue. As I listened, my heart went out to this woman. I asked if she knew of the local places that serve food daily to the homeless and working poor. There is a chance to eat one meal a day at various churches and the teeny, overpopulated day shelter (at least during the week). She had no knowledge of these resources.
I asked if she had a phone to use Google to search for information. She had a phone that was running low on minutes. Oh, did I remember those days. A smart phone was not a possibility. The flip cell phone I used required paying for minutes used. Friends and other support people knew if they called me, I would still be charged minutes. These people stopped calling me. They waited for me to contact them so I could choose times when I had minutes to use. It was so very difficult. The library was my lifeline to research and to e-mailing friends in order to stay in touch.
On this Sunday morning, I used my inexpensive smart phone to find information for this nearly frantic woman. Luckily my past volunteer work in a food bank and serving meals to the homeless and working poor was beneficial to this woman. I gave her directions to the church that either was serving meals that day or could direct her. Fortunately, it was a Sunday morning and congregants would be available.
As I searched for further resources, I inquired if she had looked into the local DV shelter. She had. The domestic violence shelter was full. They told her to call every day for availability. This woman shared she started this escape from her DV relationship miles and hours away from my city. All shelters she contacted along the way were full. Each contact person at the shelters would recommend trying the next city. (Domestic violence shelters at maximum capacity are not uncommon. When I was in need of one in the United States, I was not able to be accepted into the local one because the violence was not imminent.)
I am glad she had a car and told her so. It is not uncommon in the cities in this area for homeless people to receive camping tickets for sleeping outside. (For further information regarding camping tickets in this area, read: http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_29530641/du-report-boulder-stands-out-among-colorado-ci.ties There are many such articles to be read regarding camping tickets.)
Although I did my best to support this woman, I was left wondering if I did enough. I did what I could. She remained in my thoughts and prayers all week. I hope she found a safe place for herself and her children.
A day later, I was waiting for a bus in the early morning hours when the second unexpected encounter occurred. There is a homeless man who is familiar to me and sometimes is at my bus stop. This gentleman is polite, mild-mannered, and friendly. His wish is for others to be happy. Over the years I have resided here, he and I have had a few conversations. He was frustrated on this day because he had received a camping ticket for sleeping under a bridge. The police officer had told him to sleep under bushes; and, he would not be ticketed. This man shared with me that he needed a roof over his head to sleep and that is why he chooses to rest under bridge overpasses. He said someone complained about him sleeping under the bridge.
In the middle of his sharing, he apologized to me. He said something about not wanting to cause me unhappiness. Oh, once again, my heart ached. All I could do is listen … to be there … with empathy and compassion.
These situations are not isolated in the United States. I do not have solutions. As an individual, I do what little I can do.
Domestic violence – homelessness – abuse and trauma – PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
People do survive. Some do not. Some thrive eventually.
The gratitude I have for my life now comes with a responsibility I feel to help others – whether it is via life coaching, blogging, an empathetic ear, or through prayers.
Please take gentle care of yourself this week in this world of ours. If possible, take care of others also – in whatever ways you are able.