As I exited a bar in Pasadena, a handicapped homeless man approached me for help. He said he was sick and needed money for a place to stay the night. He sure picked the right mark because not only has my white guilt been working in overdrive lately, I made a promise to myself to start seeing homeless people as people recently and hadn't had a chance to put that into practice yet.
You can do only so much research about the criminalization of the homeless before you try to adjust your attitude. We're trained to look at society's least fortunate citizens as "lesser." I can't remember the last time I went to a comedy show where a homeless man wasn't the butt of someone's joke. (Heck, I keep contemplating leaving out the word "homeless" of this post's title, but I also know it'll be pivotal in convincing people to read… a homeless man was IN your car?) We purposely try not to see the humanity in homeless people because it is too awful to see a human suffering in that manner.
While I don't have the resources to help all of them, I do have the compassion to assist more such people in need rather than my using my standby inclination of avoiding eye contact and saying sorry to all of them. I knew I had exactly three dollars in my wallet, so I opened it and gave it all to him. He saw that I literally emptied my wallet and still asked for more. "There's an ATM over there," he told me. "I need $20 to stay overnight at the Y." My rent comes to just under $20 a day, so that seemed a little steep, and I informed him I would not be giving him any more money.
"Don't be scared of me, I need help," he begged. He then asked me if I could drop him off at a shelter a few blocks down the road. It seemed walkable, but admittedly not for a man who was hobbling slowly on a cane. I was conflicted as to whether I should let a stranger into my car, but I agreed. As we very slowly hobbled toward my parked car, he told me that he was dying from prostate cancer. That, until recently, he had been in jail for twelve years and didn't want to be released because at least they took care of him. Sadly, a desire/need to stay in prison for free health care/food/lodging is not uncommon and such a despicable commentary about our country. He was having trouble moving and I had parked far away, so I finally offered to come back for him. He didn't believe I would actually come back for him, so I looked him in the eye and shook his hand promising to give him the ride.
I shook his hand not only to reassure him, but to reassure myself. I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider getting in my car and driving away. That would be the easier thing to do. That would be the safer thing to do. But what I saw in this man was someone who needed someone to acknowledge and help him, so I came back for him. I can't promise if he were a younger, able-bodied man that I would have done the same. Knowing he didn't have the strength to physically overpower me certainly made it easier to let him in my car.
As we rode, he kept repeating that he wasn't going to rob me. I wasn't that concerned about that previously because he already knew I didn't have any more money, but the fact that he was bringing it up made me worry. Like, stop trying to make me nervous, dude. "If I thought you were going to rob me, I wouldn't let you in my car," I told him. He started talking about how the world is scared of black people. And now gay people, too! "Yeah, society's pretty fucked up," I told him matter-of-factly. He liked that.
Although we weren't in the car more than a few minutes, he managed to urinate himself during the short trip. He started crying out of embarrassment, explaining he couldn't control it because of the cancer. I started tear up, too, but I didn't let him see that. We soon arrived, and as he struggled out of my car, he thanked me. "I know you were scared, I know you ain't never had a negro in your car before, but you're a good person." None of those three statements were entirely true, but I wished him well.
Driving off is when my tears really kicked in. I wasn't crying because he peed his pants in my car or because no good deed goes unpunished. I cried because of LIFE, man. The world and reality became were far too intense, and I felt overwhelmed and confused. I left a dying, destitute man no better than I found him... I just moved him a mile closer to temporarily relief.
I know that a lot of my friends and family are going to say I never should have put myself in that situation. I don't know that I did the right thing, but I'm tired of doing nothing.