I started my car this morning and turned on the heater and seat warmer. Then I scurried back inside to take a few sips of coffee while I waited for my car to reach 74 degrees. After about 10 minutes I shivered the 10 feet back to my toasty car and drove to work cursing the cold and wind. My outdoor temperature gauge in my rear view mirror read 17 degrees.
As I turned into the parking lot to my building I noticed a figure on the front porch. A bearded, elderly homeless man was trying to shield himself from the north wind huddled under dirty blankets and a tattered knit cap. “Oh great,” I thought.
I went up to him and asked (in a deliberately unhelpful tone): “Can I help you?”.
He was clearly startled and knew he was somewhere he shouldn’t be. He asked whether this was George Bush’s house and informed me that he used to work for Prince Charles. This man was clearly mentally unstable. He was freezing cold. He was frightened. And he was completely alone. He started folding up his blankets and appeared to be contemplating his next move.
I didn’t really know what to do. I took him some hot chocolate. He sipped the hot chocolate but gave me a wary look when I asked him to come inside-inside my previously empty office where my thermostat was set to 69 degrees, warming nothing but some computers and paper while he suffered through a miserable night just outside the front door.
I hate these “kick you in the gut” moments. They make me extremely uncomfortable. I called the police and they came over. They were extremely respectful but unless he had broken the law there was nothing they could do. They asked him whether he wanted to go to a shelter. He mumbled something and walked away.
The police officers told a story about a man they found last week under a bridge. His feet were frozen and when they took him to the hospital they were told that his feet would have to be amputated. Surely that happened at a place far, far away from here, I hoped. Then the officer pointed to a bridge less than 100 yards from my office.
You’re probably thinking: “Nice neighborhood.”
But I hope you will think of something else as well. I hope you will remember that tonight in a place near your cozy home a person will sleep outside. This person who was once a son or daughter, who may be a brother or sister, who is probably mentally ill, who is certainly all alone needs your help, your compassion, your warmth. Help him.