I had a late class tonight and didn’t feel like cooking, so we had a late dinner at one of the only pizza places that was still open after 9 (yeah, living in a mid-size metropolitan area sucks sometimes). We were just biting into our pizza when Alonzo came by our table, asking for dollar bills in exchange for quarters.
During his spiel, he mentioned he was homeless, and as we didn’t really have cash on us, I asked him to join us and have a piece of pizza.
Alonzo was clearly taken aback, but he agreed. We gave him a slice of pizza, bought him a beer, and then had a very frank conversation about what leads to homelessness, how to overcome a problematic past, and how to react when your girlfriend just wants to have sex when you’re high.
There are several takeaways from tonight’s discussion.
1. Homeless people are still people.
They have pasts and futures and a desire for human contact, just like anyone else. So treat them like people. And if you don’t learn anything else from this post, let this be it.
2. You can always learn from the people around you.
Whether they’re homeless or housed, rich or poor, black or white or any shade in between – no matter who it is, they can teach you something. Tonight it was that for even a brief moment, you can overcome your past and still succeed in the future.
3. Most people wouldn’t agree with my actions.
Oh, the looks we got from the waiter! I could tell the staff wanted to kick Alonzo out of the building, so I ordered him a beer. On my tab. As he put it, “I ain’t trying to cause no trouble.” He wasn’t. He was a person who needed a meal. And even if he didn’t need a meal, was it really even that much of an inconvenience to share a pizza with him?
4. Everyone has a story.
Alonzo had a past and it was fascinating to hear him reflect on his mistakes and his hopes for his future. As a writer, and as a social worker (that’s what my master’s is in and my PhD will be in), all I could see were his “what-if’s.” There’s a good chance that I’ll write a story based on him in the near future, so I can give this man a voice.
I’m sharing this not so you’ll congratulate me for doing a public service, but so maybe you’ll consider doing something similar. Homeless people, and everyone else, have a story to tell. Are you willing to listen?