Last Friday morning I stood in Pioneer Square with about 200 people of various faiths, ages, genders and experiences. We had walked about a mile through downtown checking out some of the various ministries that serve the homeless and were now standing in solidarity for a change.
It was a good event, but it was…
It was a little too much like walking through a zoo for me. Groups of 40 people passed the homeless waiting outside buildings for a meal or services while we were escorted through. There were a couple women having a cat fight while medics took care of another woman inside. Those becoming aware of homeless issues just listened about how there were services offered at this location to a vulnerable population.
While a massive group that had engulfed my solitary walk a few blocks before entered one of the largest shelters in town, a woman screamed, “I am homeless, are you aware of that?”
I knew I was done. I followed the group into a large room that had been remodeled to fit more people for events, and listened to a sales pitch I had heard a few times before. I slowly moved to the outside of the group and then busted for the same door that the homeless use to escape the loud dining hall.
I walked past another couple minders and jumped the MAX to our final destination. I was glad for the warmth of the train, because it was cold out and I couldn’t really take it. I felt like one of those I was supposed to become aware of as I was eyed for not even pausing at the ticket machine. Except unlike most of the homeless that get judged, I had a job that provided me an annual transit pass, which was in my pocket.
As I exited the light rail train…after one stop…I walked towards my employment as I have most weekdays for the last five years, but stopped in the square for a cup of mediocre coffee from the big blue bus filling a need. I looked at the vendors and realized I have them in the Rolodex of info in my head but haven’t really used it.
While tempted to just head to a warm office, I stood there for the hour of the presentation…on the outside of the circle…near the homeless and the travelers who were just in the square for the coffee. I, like they, became very cold just standing there and started moving. The whole time I kept an eye on the clock to “respect my employer”…or honestly, to get out of the cold and be able to sit down. I enjoyed the presentation but was a little tired of hearing about the problem while it is still everywhere around us and seeming to get worse.
As I left and walked the three blocks to my paying job, I felt not very different from 2 hours before when I started the walk. I realized I can’t take the cold and wondered why anyone would choose to be homeless in this weather. I wondered if I would ever be able to relate to the population that my heart seems drawn to help. If I would be gracious, kind and generous enough to help. Or if I would continue to judge both the homeless and the suburban churches who help them differently than I do or would.
Along the way, I sent four people to the big blue bus for coffee as they walked around to get warm. Then as I walked into my nice office building…with 3 layers of clothing, time -faded jeans and hiking boots…I was looked suspiciously at by the fill-in security guard. He stared at me while I boarded the elevator and then watched the security cam of what I would assume was the elevator’s camera.
It took an hour for my feet to warm up, my knees hurt until after lunch and I had a headache all day. And all I did was stand for an hour on some hard bricks and walked less than a mile. Maybe I did become aware of the plight of the homeless. Maybe the cold taught me something about having and using resources.
It would be great if we thought of them, and did something that would make them thankful for us this holiday season.
I bet a smile, pair of socks and question of how they feel will go a long way!
If you need some place to donate time or money in the PDX area please comment below and I’ll hook you up!