A young man was standing on the divider on my way out of the Target parking lot. He was holding a sign begging for money. He reminded me of my son, when he was in his twenties. It always gets to me to see kids like this.
I turned back and came around again to give him money. He walked up to me with difficulty. He had braces on his legs and when he reached out with his hand he had some kind of disability where his fingers did not quite bend. I thought later it could be cerebral palsy. I was haunted after that.
I called up a local social service agency and talked to a social worker and told him what I saw and asked what could be done. The social worker said often times the kids we see on the street are abusing drugs and it is hard to get them to come in but that his agency still tried to help. He told me there had been a local government meeting on how to deal with the problem of homeless youth.
The social worker told me he thought he knew the boy I was describing and that the young man and his mother had come into his agency at one time. He told me if I saw the boy again I could give him information about the agency and encourage him to come in and to say Hi from the social worker. I asked him if I could volunteer for his agency and he said they did not need volunteers at that time.
I drove back to Target during the week a few times to look for that young man. One day I spotted him walking back to a van from the divider. I was scared to approach because I did not know how he would react and I did not know who else was in the van. Maybe it was a whole group of people who went out begging together.
What makes us fear getting involved and be suspicious?
But I had information ready to give him about the social service agency. I parked my car and walked across the parking lot to his van as he was getting into it. As I approached him he looked a bit wary. I told him I had seen him the other day and wanted to help. He said, “Hard times.” He reached out to shake my hand and introduce himself. I stared at his fingers and tried to suppress my look of distress. I think he noticed.
An older woman was in the van, his mom? She looked a bit threatened. I then realized the guy was older than I first thought. They were probably not the same people the social worker had met. I went on talking, nervously, about the agency and the social worker who said he thought he knew them and that they should come in. The woman looked confused when I said this and then I realized that they did not know the social worker.
I went on about how the agency could help with housing. I handed him the index card with information about the agency and their hours.
The man and his mom thanked me. I never saw him begging there after that. I hope they found help or maybe I scared them off.
I was inspired to write this post by two other great blogs about homelessness and the fear of getting involved.