In the little more than two months that Anthony and I have been working to help one another – I have gotten to know him much better. I’ve seen his ups and downs, I’ve sat in doctor’s offices with him as he is told devastating news about his health and I have heard some of the pain from his past. But nothing has affected me more than my encounter with him last night.
Like many Americans, I spent Sunday evening watching the 47th contest of the Superbowl. It delivered an exciting game and although I didn’t really have a dog in the fight, I was happy to see Baltimore win. I’m more of a Steeler and Redskins fan, but if you’ve ever gotten to know Baltimore and the people from there you can’t help but be happy for them.
On my way home from my brother’s house, I found myself walking up Connecticut Avenue for about a mile as the subway trains stopped running at midnight and I was stranded just short of my home. It was cold and I had my jacket zipped all the way up, my glove covered fists plunged deep in the front pockets and I was very focused on getting home and into my warm apartment. Across from where I used to work, my legs came to a halt as I waited for traffic to pass so that I could cross M Street.
On the North side of M Street I passed two homeless individuals sleeping on the street snuggled up against the Brooks Brothers shop. One of the men struck me – he was wrapped up like a burrito in a grey wool blanket as he slept upright against the glass of the store. I was already about six steps passed him when I realized that I recognized the furry aviator style bomber hat and was peeking out from under the blanket. I slowly walked back to confirm my suspicions – his glasses slid slightly down on his nose I could see the tiny whites of his eyes looking out at me.
“Anthony, is that you?”
“Good evening Mr. Reed, what are you doing out here?”
I explained I was on my way home and asked him how he was doing. In a slow sleepy voice he said that he was okay. We didn’t talk long…we agreed to see each other at our normal time and place on Tuesday and I wished him a good night.
Wow…that was really hard to see him outside in the freezing cold. His life is so incomprehensible to me. I can’t imagine what it must be like to endure the conditions that he does and then come out every day and be so cheerful to those around him where he sells his newspaper.
I got home, shed my many layers and climbed into my warm bed topped with a soft white feather down comforter. I struggled falling asleep…I lay in bed questioning whether I could really do anything to help Anthony. I felt like a hypocrite saying that I am trying to help him and yet I left him out in the cold last night. If a friend of mine would call me and say that he needed a place to stay for a while, I would not hesitate a second to offer up my couch. But I feel like that is a line that I cannot cross with Anthony. And while I may be wrong on this, I feel he needs to have motivation to get him off the streets and if I put him up in my place then I am scared he wont work as hard to change his situation.
I’m starting to discover how little I really do know about the problem of homelessness.