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Posted by Future Without Poverty On February - 14 - 2013 0 Comment

What if God were listening…

This past summer I tried to walk a mile in their shoes, the homeless shoes.  The drive to do this was because the feelings that use to surge through me whenever someone would stop by our migrant camp has never left me.

My life as a migrant worker began at the age of six.  I do not remember how many so called “scholars” stopped by to study us.  I vividly recall the feelings they generated in many of us.  The feelings that we were just animals in a zoo that academe saw as possibly another article or book to be published.  We felt exploited and often would laugh at what we told them because we felt they did not really want to help they just wanted to publish.  Hence, my Dad and the other men would feed them crazy stories.

However, I will always remember my migrant life as a young boy.  The names they yelled at us like taco bender, wetback, etc. or the items they hurled at us like empty beer bottles, tomatoes, etc. However, they did help in motivating me.

Thus, I wanted to study the face of today’s homeless not by stopping and pulling out my Likert scale but by walking a mile in their shoes.  Thus, I took off and headed east to begin my life experience as a homeless person.  Although, unlike a homeless person; I had an old Chevrolet Impala that I was going to drive and sleep in.

The first homeless night was spent in Maryland.  I met up with a group of six young White men. My guess is that they were in their late teens or early 20s.  As we exchanged stories, the first part of building trust is sharing information; I learned they were all from different parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania and all of them had dropped out of school.  Although, after listening, I felt they were pushed out of school.

After gaining their trust, I asked them, “What if God were listening?  What would you ask for?”

“I would ask God to move me to West Virginia!” one quickly responded.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it is easier to buy a gun there!” he replied. The others joined in and agreed with the young respondent.

We talked until one by one we fell asleep.  I got up early the next morning and continued on my homeless journey.  The next stop was Baltimore, Maryland.  Again, I teamed up with another group of homeless individuals.  This group was older, racially diverse, and included males and females.

Once again, we shared stories. The story that stuck with me from that night was that of a 57 year old former teacher. Hearing the middle age man’s story was moving enough but as he shared it through his tear filled eyes made it that much more difficult to keep my composure as he told his story.

A Future Without Poverty- What if God were listening…

He talked about the numb feeling he got as he read his layoff notice.  He said he told his family not to worry.  He will apply for unemployment and get another job.  The only problem was that no one wanted to hire a 57 year old Black man.  His benefits ran out, he lost his house, and finally, he asked his family to move in with relatives while he traveled looking for another job.  Keeping the fact that he was now homeless a secret from his family, he continues his job search.  Additionally, he shared with me his frustration.  He did what he thought would lead him to a stable career.  He went to college, he became a teacher, and now he is a homeless man full of pain.

Additionally, my homeless walk a mile in my shoes trip led me through Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania.  Each one provided me with difficult life stories.  One that will stay with me for a long time happened in Philadelphia, PA.

I pulled over for a night’s rest in an area of Philadelphia that included a number of homeless sitting around a camp fire.  My body was in extreme pain but I finally fell asleep.  After about an hour of sleep I was awakened by a knock on my window.

A young man said, “Sir, I don’t know if you are from here but I strongly urge you to move from here.  This is a very dangerous spot.  In a couple of hours this place will be filled by thieves, drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes.   It is not safe for you to stay here.”

After we visited, he told me about a 24 hour restaurant that was safe.  I thanked him and moved on.  I found the 24 hour restaurant.  After going in and enjoying a cup of coffee, I slipped a $10 bill for them to let me sleep in their parking lot.

The next morning, I met up with some homeless people and homeless advocates in downtown Philadelphia.  They were upset because the Mayor had issued an order barring Philadelphia churches from setting up outdoor soup kitchens for the homeless because he was concerned about potential health hazards.   The homeless and their advocates complained that the homeless are eating out of trash cans.  They believed the real reason for the outdoor soup kitchen ban was because the Mayor felt the homeless would hurt Philadelphia’s tourism industry.

In conclusion, I learned a lot from the experience.  First, being homeless is a lot of hard work.  Second, the main lesson that I took from my homeless travels was that the homeless also have a lot of pride.  Finally, what if God were listening?  What would you ask for? 


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