I experienced a homeless day with Andre last Saturday. It was his idea and he volunteered to be my guide. We walked for miles through the streets of Atlanta all day looking for food, shelter from the sun and a place to rest, fresh water and legal bathrooms. Andre is uniquely qualified to be my guide as he is homeless and has been for a long time. He’s everything most of you fear. He’s young, black, strong and …..that cane! Maybe you’ve driven past him as you drive downtown on your way to work, or to eat, or maybe to catch a show. Your instincts told you to look the other way and not to make eye contact. I understand. It’s not natural for you to deliberately make contact with, or to engage with homeless people. I get it.
We walked from park to park in search of food. It was Saturday and food was plentiful as the drive-by ministries provide free food, water and prayer for the asking. We finally settled on some Nathan’s hot dogs, chips, bottled water, a banana, a P&J sandwich packed “to go” for later and a copy of the New Testament–compliments of the ministry of Hickory Flats. All of this was free, and not unusual fare for a Saturday on the streets. We ate better than a lot of people that have homes, and jobs and food in the fridge. You don’t have to be hungry if you’re homeless in Atlanta. You just have to know where to look.
We ate well,we listened to some impromptu street preaching for a while and then walked some more. Walking is the primary activity of homelessness. Danger, cops and temptation arrive when the walking stops. We were offered all varieties of illegal drugs, we were solicited for money and cigarettes, we were stared at by passing cars and we exchanged pleasantries with quite a few other homeless people that Andre introduced me to along the way. For such an uncivilized environment, people that we met were remarkably welcoming, friendly, and for the most part, just wanted to share a minute or two before getting on with their own lives. We moved invisibly from street to street. We became part of the urban street-scape–virtually un-noticed and unimportant to hundreds of passing cars.
The following video provides a unique opportunity to do something that a lot of people would like to do, but would never have the opportunity to, or more accurately, would never put themselves in a position to. That is to talk with a homeless person. Up close. Get way, way closer than, “Hi, how are you?” Here’s your chance to ask the hard questions. What’s it like out there? Why don’t you get a job? How long have you been out on the streets? Where do you go when it rains?”
The video that follows asks those questions and more. I think you’ll find something that you didn’t expect. Andre, like so many others that I know that live on the streets, is a highly intelligent, funny, sensitive guy. He’s worth knowing. He’d make a great neighbor and he does make a good friend. Andre is somebody’s son. He’s somebody’s brother. He was somebody’s best friend in elementary school. But Andre’s life, unlike most of you reading this, took an unexpected wrong turn. Now he’s caught up in the vicious cycle of homelessness, struggling with addiction and doing whatever he needs to do just to stay alive. He’s mastered the skills necessary to live on the street, but now he wants off. Watch his profile and make sure you read the rest of this post for the remarkable end of our tour.
See what I mean? Likeable guy right? Check out the end of our day. Our day started early and ended late. On the way back to my truck from Safehouse we passed a young woman who was standing on the sidewalk on North Avenue. She had a son in each hand. She was clean, pretty and she smiled as we exchanged “hellos.” I have a habit sometimes of asking people that look out of place is everything is ok. It’s my natural follow-up to hello. After we said “hello” to her, we walked another 30 feet or so and I heard her voice call to us.
I’ll shorten the story and write about it in another post, but here’s the super-abridged version. She needed help. She had just escaped an abusive domestic situation and she was running away while her battering husband was at work. The only belongings she carried was what she called, “the important papers.” Id, birth certificates, and a cell phone. She needed a place to stay, and her boys, ages 3 and 4 needed some food. Right that minute. She was lucky enough to encounter Andre and me. We know people in high places that know people in low places. We went to McDonald’s and took her to a shelter. Andre walked the family inside while I rode around the block. He made sure they checked in and were safe. Andre the homeless guy. Andre the guy struggling with addiction. Andre–the guy most people would choose as the least likely person to offer her and her family safety, security, food and shelter. Andre my friend.
Andre, like so many others that live in the margins, is worth knowing. If you see him walking around, blow your horn. Say hello. Better yet, stop to have a chat.
I asked that woman what she was doing on the sidewalk. How long had she been there? What was her plan? She replied, “I’m not sure how I got there. I just stopped and prayed for a miracle.”
Maybe it was just a coincidence that Andre and I walked past her.
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