Beyond The Label of Homelessness; A Personal Story

His tears fell onto the dashboard of my car, as his calloused fingers cradled his weathered face.  He hadn’t asked for a ride, but I insisted.  We were twenty minutes into another unpredictable Florida monsoon.  Already drenched, and with a bad knee, dragging himself to the local shelter where he’d be spending the night would have been an ordeal. I had to do something…anything!

His scraggly, gray beard hid his mouth, but his story was loud and clear.  He was a construction worker.  He’d depended on his able body to provide for him for the past ten years. When he’d fallen and torn his knee he hadn’t just lost his mobility – he lost his income. With no family left he fended for himself on the street.

People look at me…” he said, finally turning in my direction.  “They don’t see a person. They see somebody who’s gonna bother them…rob them. I’ve been a Christian all my life, I’ve never hurt anybody. Things just panned out bad for me, and I’ve got nobody to help.” His words cut through me…piercing my heart as we drove through the rain. I knew my parents wouldn’t like it if they knew what I was doing.

Another one?!?”  My mother would shout!  I could hear her worried voice. “They could be serial killers!” she’d always say, throwing her hands up in defeat.

Eight years of offering rides to the homeless…I’ve never once met a serial killer. At least not one that’s confessed to me.  I’ve never gotten robbed.  That much I’m sure of.  The people I’ve helped are just that…people.  Normal people with bad luck.  Sure, there’s a chance, I suppose, I could stumble into a dangerous encounter.  The more I do this, the higher those chances get.  But statistically speaking, chances are if I go on a date I could get raped. I drive everyday, so there’s a chance I could get into an accident, too.  But I’m not going to stop driving or dating.  I’m just going to wear my seat belt.  I’m going to be selective on who I choose to go out with.  Should I stop helping people because there’s an off-chance of being attacked? If we end up in a world where it’s okay to ignore the needs of each other for the small chance of self-preservation… well, I don’t want to live there. I’ll take my damn chances.

Although it meant a great deal to him…for me, a ride to a shelter just wasn’t enough. I reached behind his seat, pulled a small travel umbrella from my purse, and pressed it into his hands. “I’m sorry!”  I said, “This is all I have. I wish I could give you more!”  His eyes welled up as he stepped out of the car.  “Today you gave me hope.” he said.  “That’s all I really needed.”

With that, he closed the car door, popped open the umbrella and walked towards the shelter.  I waited for him to get inside.  The rain had stopped, the sky cleared, and the sun peaked out for the first time all day.

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