Way To Go, Joe

Posted: March 8, 2007 in Compassion, Friendship, Homelessness, Hopes, Money, Panhandling, Relationships

This post was going to be "Homeless 102: The People Of SLO," but something came up just this morning that I was privy to and I wanted to put it down into words while it was fresh in my mind.

It’s about 3 homeless men here in San Luis Obispo. One of them I know quite well. The other two I’ve never seen before. So let me set the stage starting with the one homeless gentleman that I know. I’ll call him "Joe," though it’s not his real name.  

Joe has a tendency of keeping to himself. He does interact with other homeless people in town, but he doesn’t really "socialize" with them. It isn’t that he’s anti-social, rather it’s that he knows that hanging out at the Prado Day Center talking is not the way to climb out of the black hole of homelessness. He tries to maintain a neat appearance, but being homeless doesn’t always allow that. He has a strong sense of self, and has clearly defined ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

He panhandles when he needs to, but would prefer having a "real" job – one that would allow him to move ahead in life. And for anyone who thinks that panhandlers are all drunks and drug addicts, let me say this: I know for fact that this past Christmas season, some of the money Joe received from panhandling was spent day after day at the Dollar Tree store in the Marigold Shopping Center buying $1.00 toys for "Toys For Tots."

But moving along…

As it turns out, yesterday Joe and his significant other had somewhat of a falling out, which continued to escalate until finally this morning neither one of them has yet to talk to one another. Last night, "Kelly" – not her real name – ended up sleeping at the homeless shelter overflow and Joe slept outside.

This morning Joe went to the 7-11 and bought a cup of coffee and walked toward the Mission Plaza. On his way there, he came across one of the other two homeless men, who didn’t know Joe was homeless. He asked Joe if there was a convenience store somewhere nearby where he could get a book of matches. Joe gave him directions to the 7-11 then reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a one-dollar bill and gave it to the man.

Less then ten minutes later, while sitting at the Mission Plaza drinking his coffee, thinking about the fight he and Kelly had had and whether or not he might lose her, and quite frankly, feeling like the bottom of his world had dropped out, Joe saw a homeless man digging through one of the trash cans there. This man was looking through discarded Styrofoam containers in hope of finding something to eat.

Despite all of the personal emotions Joe was going through, he called the man over, reached into the pocket of his jeans, took out all of the change he had left and handed it to the man. This third homeless man, not knowing that Joe himself was homeless, broke out into an enormous smile and said: "Thank You, Sir! Now I can go down to the 7-11 and get me a couple of hot dogs."

Joe just shrugged his shoulders and said: "No problem, man. Enjoy."

If you were to ask Joe why he did it, he’d probably shrug his shoulders and say something like: "Because it was the right thing to do."

Right now, as I’m writing these words, Joe and Kelly still haven’t spoken to one another – at least not that I’m aware of. Joe isn’t sure whether they will – or whether the relationship is over. One thing he’s sure of is that he doesn’t want to lose her.

Like he says: "Being homeless is a life of uncertainty. The only thing I know for sure is that I love her with all my heart. And for me, she’s the only thing that keeps me from losing all sanity."

In the "Lord Of The Rings," J.R.R. Tolkien wrote:

"Not all that it gold glitters,
Not all who wander are lost." 

It seems to me that Joe has proven that point with room to spare.

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