|Downtown Santa Monica|
My friend often works late in her office, finding evenings a quiet time to catch up on her "To Do" list. It's not unusual for her to be the last person out of the building, her car the last one in the parking lot. It's also not unusual for there to be someone camped outside on cold nights when she lets herself out each evening.
One of these campers was a woman who liked the relative safety of the sheltered loading dock. As the months went on, my friend grew used to her, first offering a brief "good night," then exchanging first names. I don't know how much they actually spoke - my friend is a shy woman, even fearful at times, not one to put herself forward. But she let the woman sleep unbothered behind her building.
She had a friend who worked at the public library, and learned that the homeless woman spent her days there, pestering the librarians for help with reference materials. After several months without further change or incident, the homeless woman just disappeared.
|Palisades Park, Santa Monica|
Two or three years later, a woman came to my friend's office and asked for her by name. It took a moment for my friend to recognize the homeless woman. I don't know her story, so I can't tell you, but counseling, treatment, mentoring and assistance had changed her circumstances. She now had a home, and a job, and no longer took drugs.
"I just wanted to stop by and thank you," she told my friend, "for your kindness, and because you treated me like a normal person even though I was sleeping outside your door."
Almost every morning when I drive to work, there's a panhandler with a cardboard sign standing on the concrete divider at the intersection of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. Actually, there are several regular panhandlers, each at a different time or day of the week. There's the one whose sign says "Even a Smile Helps." There's another whose sign begs Topanga commuters for a joint - talk about targeting your market demographic. There's a fellow with a dog; a woman claiming to need bus fare home; a man in a wheelchair with an American flag. Sometimes, you see one sitting on the side of the road under the trees, as though taking a break or waiting for a shift change.
Some drivers give money or a cigarette, a can of soda, some food. I don't give - I find it difficult even to give eye contact.
The other day I read this story at Detroitblog - "Ain't too proud to beg." The author speaks with Detroit panhandlers, treating them like normal people, and lets them tell their stories.
"They've classified those who refuse to give too. The drivers who fake a phone call to avoid being engaged. The ones who stare nervously ahead, gripping the wheel. The door lockers. Those who nod and smile but keep the window rolled up. And the cruel ones who play tricks, yell insults or throw things...."It's made me think. What does it say about my lack of generosity that I can barely meet someone's eyes with mine, let along give the smile requested on the sign?
I have to marvel at the compassion my timid friend possesses, that a homeless woman would return years later to thank her for treating her with respect.
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