The man on the corner of Market and Belmont Streets held a sign: HOMELESS NEED WORK. He’d drawn a small black dot in the center of each letter O. To me, these dots signified creativity, hope.
In my 10 years living in this area, he’s only the second homeless person I’d seen here. How could I drive by him and not do anything? But, drive by I did.
About a week later, I put a jar of peanut butter, a box of graham crackers, six apples, a packet of dried cherries, a can of (diet) grape soda, a bottle of Smart water, and a roll of toilet paper in a bag. I drove to Homeless Man’s corner, but he wasn’t there. I was disappointed, then glad. Maybe he’d found a job or a shelter.
The next day he was there, standing in the sun on the busy corner.
I pulled into a lot, parked crookedly, grabbed the bag and walked toward him. I waved him over to me, where I stood under a maple tree.
His black, matted hair boinged out from under a dirty baseball cap. His dark glasses wouldn’t allow a glimpse of who’s behind them. I removed my sunglasses.
“I brought some things for you.”
“Thank you.” He accepted the bag. His teeth were gray and short as if they’d been filed down.
“What kinds of things do you need?”
“I was grinding and a piece of metal poked my eye.” He pointed to his right eye, which I couldn’t see.
He told me he’d been helping someone do body work on dune buggies (here in Pennsylvania?), when a piece of metal flew into his eye. He had to quit and never got paid. He said he can paint, do drywall and other things like that.
I said, “I don’t have a job for you, but I’ll try to get some ideas.” I went back to my car and called Helen. She’s the executive director for an agency that helps disabled people get jobs. She’d know what to do.
“Ask him if he’s a veteran,” Helen said. “There are lots of programs for vets now with so many returning from war. It doesn’t matter what war he was in. Ask him if he’s a vet. Or he can go to the mission for a hot meal and a bed. Usually these guys are too proud to get the help they need.” She went on in that vein a bit longer, which didn’t fit the big-hearted Helen I’d always known. She added that he could use her agency’s computers to do a job search.
I walked back to the tree and waved. Homeless Man put his sign down and came over.
“Are you a vet?”
“What? I have a bad ear?” He flicked his left ear.
“Are you a veteran?”
“Do you know about the mission? They can help you.”
“I was there. They made me work . . .”
I didn’t catch the rest with mid-day traffic grinding past us. I knew he had some sort of gripe with the mission.
As I drove away, he gave me a cheerful wave and a big grin.
I’m not sure what to do next. I’m thinking of offering to drive him to the mission, if he reconsiders. Maybe I’ll drop off some more stuff. Toothpaste and a toothbrush and more food, of course.