I’ve always had a soft spot for the homeless population. I remember being 18 years old and seeing a guy on the side of the road under a light rain, wrapped in a nasty blanket, tortured look on his face. I sat in my car across the street and was already crying before I even hopped out and ran to him with my mom’s business card.
She works with the homeless. She can help you.
I understand now that this soft spot is practically stitched right into my DNA, and that I got it from my Mama. When I was young, on Saturdays we used to cook giant pots of stew for the homeless and go down to the soup kitchen on 1st Ave and serve them dinner. There are plenty of other times in my early years that both my parents’ compassion for homeless folks was made clear.
And then for 20 years in total after that, I lived in downtown Seattle. Being a not-large town, particularly up until about 10 years ago, in a way I “knew” a good bit of the homeless population there. It was the same, say, 50 or so people. Rotating cast of characters. When you live and work downtown, you see the others who do the same. A lot.
Real Change is a newspaper based in my hometown of Seattle, I am extremely proud to tell you. Their main purpose is to give the homeless visibility. Give them jobs, responsibilities, remove some stigmas, and inform the general public, both in print and in person.
Basically they print newspapers with stories and opinions that advocate for the homeless, and these newspapers are also sold in person, on street corners, by homeless and marginalized people. They cost .30 if I remember correctly, and if you wanted to pay .50, say, that extra .20 could be kept by your homeless brother or sister.
I used to get off the bus about a mile before my office, just so I could walk before I’d have to sit for 9 hours. I’d always buy a Real Change from this one guy on the way, and this went on for months until one day we struck up a conversation.
I learned that he’d been a baker at Alki Bakery near my home in West Seattle. But he’d been diagnosed with cancer about a year previous – apparently not for the first time – which affected his ability to remain mobile, and therefore employed, and therefore insured.
Ye Olde American House of Cards.
So he was selling Real Change because it was flexible hours and less physically demanding.
“Less physically demanding”, the man with the cancer told me, while we stood in freezing temperatures at 6:30am one pitch black December morning.
One day soon after this, my boss came into the office and asked me if I liked Starbucks.
The answer to that was “no I hate them”, but being who I am, I instead said “sometimes”.
He handed me a Starbucks gift card for $100.
I put it right into my wallet. I knew who might want it.
The next morning I saw my Real Change friend and I asked him if he liked coffee.
He told me that he did not.
But that he loved hot chocolate! There’s nothing like something warm while you’re just standing around waiting for someone to buy your papers, you know?
“Please don’t think this is weird, or I’m trying to treat you like a charity case”, I said, “but my boss just gave me this $100 gift card to Starbucks that he didn’t want, because he doesn’t drink coffee, and that I don’t want, because I don’t like Starbucks. Do you want it?”
“… are you being serious right now?”
The next morning I walked past but he was busy working so I kept going… past his nutritious Odwalla juice and still-steaming breakfast sandwich from Starbucks.
The morning after that, he was sitting down enjoying his breakfast as I walked by.
“OMG EMILY HAVE YOU EVER HAD THESE BEFORE???” He holds up his Odwalla juice.
“Oh yeah they are really good, aren’t they? What flavor is that one?”
I don’t even remember what his answer was. I just remember the light in his eyes.
These delicious things. These treats.
OMG they are so good Emily.
It’s not that he couldn’t ever buy them for himself before, it’s just that he never knew. He was busy with other life things. They never really presented themselves until now.
Unpasteurized juice blends. Hot damn.
For a few days more I’d walk past and he’d have a different flavor every morning. Then one day there were two juices.
“They had a new flavor. Got you one.”
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