I was approached by a dirty young man yesterday, seeking a buck. As he walked away from me, I did the usual internal debate with myself:
– he’s young; it’s not too late for him to change direction.
– he put his starbucks drink down to panhandle. He’s fine.
– he’s playing at being homeless; so much idealism wasted.
– he only approaching women; he’s still a boy and doing ok.
I had just taken a bunch of funds out of my bank account to pay for my flooring, and there was no way I’d open my wallet in front of a stranger.
So, I went in and picked up my pizza, and segregated $5 out from my wallet so that it was in my hand. Heading back out, the young guy was still there so I called to him and handed over $5. Then I asked him some questions.
“Get something to eat. Are you homeless? Do you have a place to stay?”
“Oh, I’m ok. I sleep on the couch of some friends.” (Clearly, he’s not showering or using their laundry).
“Do you use drugs and alcohol?”
“Yeah, I do a bit of alcohol…”
“Look, you’re still young and cute. Quit doing that crap and come up with a plan for yourself. You’re not going to be this age forever, and as your youth and looks fade you’ll find people get less sympathetic and meaner the older you get.”
I turned to walk away from him, having wasted my words on someone who was clearly too romantic to understand that being homeless is only an adventure in retrospect, and not while you’re living it.
But, my moment of being judgemental may have hit a nerve.
“Hey, I have 3 bucks. I only wanted a buck and you gave me $5. Take this extra back.”
“Do you have money put aside for breakfast tomorrow?”
“No.” he replied, thrusting the $3 in crumpled bills toward me.
“Keep it.” I said. “Winter’s coming.”
I can’t adopt this kid. I can’t make him change his choices. But, every day I see someone like him, I remember Jay Shine, a lost (and violent) young man who took to the woods when I was a teen, and who died in them 30 years later.
Like a lost dog, he lived on the edges of town life, scrounging where he could and refusing his brother and sister’s entreaties to come indoors.
I’ll never understand the fantasy or romantic inclinations or mental health issues that make anyone feel like living on their nerves and wits alone is the only possible choice for their best quality of life.
I just see such wasted potential.