About a year ago, I wrote a story titled “Hopelessness Is Only One Letter Away From Hopelessness.” I have more interaction with homeless people than most, since I live in Sarasota, Florida, midway between the Salvation Army facility and downtown. Every day, dozens of homeless people walk downtown in the morning and return to the Salvation Army at night to eat, shower, and sleep. One day last month I was downtown and happened to be walking alongside a homeless couple who were carrying all their worldly possessions on their backs. This was during one of Sarasota’s rare cold spells (the nighttime temperatures had been dipping below 35 degrees for the previous two nights), and I wondered if they had some place warm to sleep and something hot to eat. I thought about how lucky I was to have a roof over my head and the means to live comfortably.
“I hope you have some place warm to sleep,” I said, turning to the man. He looked up at me, visibly startled that I had spoken to him.
“No, we’ve been sleeping on the street,” he replied.
“There’s a Salvation Army just down the street where you can get a bed and a hot meal. Do you know where it is?”
“Yeah, but they charge $10 a night per person to sleep there and we just don’t have that kind of money.”
I had heard rumors of this. Apparently, some of the Salvation Army execs have proposed turning the facility into a money-making treatment center, and these new fees are a step in that direction.
“I think they have free nights when the temperatures drop below a certain point.”
“Not any more. They even charge $3 to take a shower now.”
My heart went out to them. There was really nothing more I could say, other than to wish them the best and tell them to try and stay warm.
“Thank you ma’am. God bless you.” They were obviously grateful that I had bothered to speak to them, much less show compassion for their situation. As they walked away, they held their heads just the teeniest bit higher.
Most people ignore the homeless, walking by them as if they are invisible. Sarasota does its share of chronically homeless people who panhandle and abuse the system, but those who work in social services will tell you that the majority of homeless are people who are just temporarily down on their luck. Unfortunately, they way society treats them results in a complete loss of hope, and once hope is gone, not much is left.
Even though I am not currently in Sarasota, I began thinking about this issue again when I read a story this morning about a football game between a Texas high school team and a team of prisoners from a Dallas prison. Realizing that the prisoners never had anyone to cheer them on, the students divided themselves into two contingents. To the bewilderment of the prison players, they arrived to find their half of the stadium filled with fans. It is a powerful story about hope and the effect it can have. I warn you, the story is a tearjerker – it gave me goosebumps toward the end. But I promise you that it is well worth the read.
Once again I am reminded that every one of us can make a difference. Sometimes it means just smiling at someone, or opening a door. Just a kind word can make all the difference in the world for someone who is down and out.