Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Other Face of the Homeless

By: Sandra Carrington-Smith

When walking down the paths of Moore Square in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, one has the feeling of having reached the heart of the city.

The ancient oaks and poplar trees set a marked contrast to the rest of the world vibrating all around, and embrace each other as to create a net of protection over this tiny island of peace, from the hustle and bustle of the nearby City Market.

Moore Square is the home of Christine and some of her homeless friends.

I met Christine a few months ago, when I strolled downtown looking for a group of homeless to bring a box of groceries to. The first time I saw her, she was sitting on the edge of a small garden bed with a few others, and eyed me suspiciously when I walked right up to her and put the box down near her feet. I asked her if she knew anyone who could use the things I brought, and explained that the homeless guy I had bought those items for was nowhere to be found that morning. Christine told me that she was going to take care of distributing the groceries I brought, so I thanked her and left. As I walked off, I turned around to look, and saw that she had summoned several people I had not seen just a moment before, who were now all gathered around the cardboard box. Watching them go through the few treats I brought was like watching my children on Christmas morning: they were smiling and talking excitedly, and held fruit cups and packs of peanuts with the same reverence and enthusiasm that my kids display when opening an expensive new video game.

Since then, I have gone back several times to bring groceries and other small items. With each visit, their suspicion has thawed a little, and has now been completely replaced by gratefulness and excitement.

When I went to bring a box two days ago, I saw that Christine’s backpack was badly torn, and her few belongings were falling out of it. I thought of the many backpacks in my storage room that my kids no longer use, and told Christine that I would bring them to her the next day. Yesterday morning, I went back with my younger son, my daughter, my friend Connie, and her two children. Christine was in her usual spot sitting beside a few other homeless people, and greeted us with a big smile as we approached her “home.” I laid the bags near her other stuff, and we all talked for a while. While we sat, a small man, attired in a blue dress shirt and khaki pants, walked up to my son and handed him a small handful of change. Michael immediately refused, and tried to give the coins back, but the little man was adamant about him keeping them: he was touched by Michael’s compassion and good heart, and wanted to give something back.

Before we left, I told Christine that I would be back soon with more things; she just smiled and said, “You don’t have to bring anything. If you are in the area, just come by and talk to us for a while.”

Needless to say, we all left Moore Square with a lot more than we walked there with, and realized that there is another face to the homeless, a very human, warm and caring one. Beyond the rough edges, they are normal people, who enjoy human contact and love one another. Life circumstances have forced them to shed their ego and live humbly, but have not robbed them of human dignity and inner beauty. Their light shines from within and touches the heart of anyone who will take a moment to know them beyond their appearance. I don’t know if my son will ever again meet the little man who gave him the coins, but he will forever remember how, one day, an angel came up to him and gave him a gift from the heart, mindless of the fact that those coins could have been his next meal.

First published August 2008

We were all created by God,