Friday, May 18, 2012


Look at baby sis. She's on the phone with her papi. Backwards phone and all, they're still able to communicate. Her high-pitched squeals fill the car and reach his ears over 2000 miles away. After the initial excitement plateaus, she's content to listen. To his adoring i love you's. To the words and sounds he knows...that she'll know. That it's him. It's a tender interaction that any observer would find "cute." But I'm the mom. And more so, the wife. It's a lot deeper than cute. I can tell that they both need this- especially him.

It's a great gift to be loved. To feel love.

Which brings me to a subject I've thought about a lot since moving to LA. Time has tapered the intensity and frequency. But it's still there, with a lot of unanswered questions in my mind.

It's the homeless. And how to treat them. And what to do for them.

I'm very curious about your thoughts on this.

Despite much thought, I have absolutely no idea where I "stand on the issue". But there's two points of influence that have definitely set the foundation.

Cute Auntie Michelle and I talked about this once and the advice she passed on, was this, "Whether or not you give them money or not, or give them food or least give them the respect of feeling like a human being. Look them in the eye. Say hello." This has stuck with me. It's something I can easily do, and do every time. I have no ethical issues with this. And it feels good to treat them like I treat so many other people. We're momentarily all on the same playing field..... equal human beings.

The other point that has influenced me is an experience that I'm sure I'll carry around with me til I'm an old grandma. Despite my rapid loss of brain cells- forgetting doctor appointments and birthdays, forgetting which hotel room is mine, forgetting conversations, and names....there's nothing I can forget about this simple 20 second interaction I witnessed about least 3 years ago.

My pocketed town in this big ole city of Los Angeles doesn't house many homeless people. So the few that it does are noticed. And one is an absolute stand out- at least in my eyes. I could pick him out in a line-up of 2,000. I've looked at his face many times. And never without wondering about his story. I'm infested with know the specific steps of his journey. Did he know the path he was on? Did mindless, default decisions bring him to this point? Did he think he would be an exception to inevitable consequences? I'm dying to know. As the stereotype with homeless people goes, he can often be found with his brown paper bag. Or glazed over eyes. But the word that always comes to mind when I go to describe meek. He seems very gentle without a mean bone in his body. I could be totally wrong but he is nothing like the homeless man found at Jack n the Box at Sunset and the PCH who I am deathly afraid to go around because of his loud, swearing rants and the looks of rage he showcases. Nor is he at similar to the rambling, self-talkers that also wear anger in their eyes. Not our man, he simply looks....meek.

Other than observing him with curiosity, I can't remember if I had had any interaction with him- which would have only been a simply hello- before this day. Since though, I don't ever pass without offering my warm greeting. Because I want to reinforce the message I heard....

He had just walked out of The Coffee Bean and was carrying a warm cup in his hand. Only footsteps behind him, was another man. Probably in his mid-40's. Very masculine looking. Wearing khaki shorts and a red USC pull-over. If I were forced to guess his occupation, I would have gone with football coach. I don't know if it was the pull-over, but he just looked the kind. He held his own cup of coffee and in those few strides outside of the store, he reached up and put his hand on our meek, homeless friend's shoulder as they continued their pace, and said, "You know we care about you, right? People in this town, we care about you."

It was simple.

Yet it was one of those scenes that stops you in your tracks. One that you wish you could have somehow videotaped. To replay the genuineness with which the words were spoken. To study the homeless man's reaction. Did his eyes light up when he heard that? Did he believe him? Was he uncomfortable being touched? Or did he drink this close human interaction up more thirstily than he did his coffee?

And my heart took a momentary hit. Because I could have never said those words. Although I can't remember, I don't know that I cared about him beyond being curious about him, to be honest. And if I did, I wasn't in a humble enough place where I could have ever offered him that heartfelt confession of hope like this man did. Let alone the cup of coffee- the action that accompanied those words.

On so many levels, it was a teaching moment. Where I stood and learned in the hidden shadows of compassion.

It's a great gift to be loved. To feel love. To give love. Even if that love is a simple 20 second interaction and a hot cup of coffee.

Like I said, I still struggle on this issue as I am slapped in the face with it every time I head down the PCH passing a half dozen "God Bless, I'm hungry" signs. I don't know when to give, when not to give, what to give, what to say to my kids, but these two bullet points always frame my thinking now.

Very curious, what are your views on helping the homeless? What kind of conversations do you have with your kids about the subject? Do you have issues with giving a couple bucks? Or handing out a granola bar?


  1. We usually keep canned soup with a flip top in each car to pass out. We've also kept fleece throws in the car. It's great because it serves two purposes - we can pass it out when we see someone in need and it also means that if we are stranded or we have some extra food and blankets.
    I've had people refuse what I offer, but that is their agency. I could do better at having more compassion though - I don't think I could have been like that man either.

  2. This is a very simple one for me and can be a highly teachable "moment" for your children as well. We are commanded to give, to be charitable. Not politely asked but he Lord, commanded. The act of giving to your fellow man whatever he may need that you can give is an act between YOU and God. What that person does with your charity, your giving.......that act is between THEM and God. I am no where near the same tax bracket as many of my friends and I make it a point to give whatever it is I can whenever I see a less fortunate. Sometimes it's money I have, sometimes it's fruit from the grocery store, sometimes it's an extra hamburger from Wendy's. It is commanded of me to be charitable and to care and to show my son that he is not above anyone else on this planet. God loves each of us the same. There is a man that frequents the post office by our home. He never says much and is often looking downward. DOesn't bother a soul. Whenever we see him I have given him some change, some food...etc. One day I was very grumpy, very busy and preceded to walk right by him. Noah pulled on my hand harder than I thought he could and said "Mom, wait! Open the car we forgot something!" So I did thinking I had forgotten one of the many packages I needed to ship. Noah came back with 3 bananas that we had just bought at the store. He walked over to the man and he said "Here's some bananas for you sir. One for now and one for later when you're hungry again." The man look up and completely lit up the neighborhood with his smile. He teared up a bit and said "Thank you young man. Very nice of you. I love bananas. God love you boy" I will never forget that as long as I live. I think the conversation is very simple to explain to your kids. I explained to Noah when he asked why that man is always there that he isn't as fortunate as us to have such a pretty house and nice bed so he comes here to stay out of the rain and cold and hope that people might help him. I tell him that it's up to us to be nice and do what we can to show him he is loved. I tell him that could be us and we would want people to help us too. No one is immune to having everything taken from you in a heartbeat. It happens all the time. There are college educated former 6 figure salary people that are in the homeless shelter with nothing.
    I work with a woman that was a high level exec at an ad agency in Seattle. She lost her husband and 2 kids in an accident, her house to foreclosure and her job due to downsizing all within the space of 2 years. She had a trainer, a nutritionist, went for weekly massages and pedicures, spent hundreds on her hair and clothes every month and now works for $9 an hour at The Home Depot and cleans houses. She says none of the above mentioned things matter at all and she wishes she would have spent more time doing for others and showing her love to others. That's the stuff right there. :) Ok, I shall step down off my soapbox now....just feel very passionately about this one.

    1. that's a very tender story about noah. it definitely illustrates the teaching power of example.

  3. Gay - I am on the Board for a homeless group here in Portland - we work with the youth and kids from ages 8-21 who are living on the street. there are many sad stories and it's hard to lump them into any one category. we are committed to work with the kids to get them back to living a life off the street. We deal with runaways, kids with dependency issues, kids who are being sex-trafficked and more. Our goal is to help them as kids get off the street and change/alter the pattern before they become adults living on the street. the thing to remember is , the people living on the street each have an individual story and most times, it is not by choice but by poor decisions and circumstancs beyond their control that got them there. As I work with these kids, the one thing they say over and over...they don't want to be judged-they don't enjoy asking for handouts-they sometiems don't have the tools to get help. To those wondering, go with your gut in offering them money, water, handout etc...but each major city has programs in place to help the homeless population. Funding is tight now with Federal and State Governments pulling back on grant money and alot of people who previously gave to charities are no longer able to do so. I would start by selecting a reputable organization that deals directly with the homeless population and give as much as you can that way. and if you encounter someone on the street, go with your gut and offer what you can -show respect and say hi, whatever. I have had my share of dealing with agressive people on the street and sometimes it is scary...donate, help, and involve yourself with an organization and help individually as you feel comfortable. majority of the people living on the street have their story and just want to be loved and not judged. Most major cities have, as we do here in Portland - volunteers who reach out each night to offer assistance, food, shelter etc...letting the people know where they can go. sometimes they respond, others take the information and it is in their hands to take action for themselves. you have a kind heart and am sure you can teach your kids the right's tough out there...we all need to smile and give a hand and treat each other well. Think Globllay and act Locally...

  4. ok, my comment is embarrassingly short compared to the ones above 1. because i don't have much time and 2. because my thoughts on the subject are simple. As Christians, we're told in the scriptures to give freely to those who have less than us, especially to those who have nothing. We're not to judge what they do with our money or food or whatever we give them - we are just to be Christ-like and give freely with no judgement whatsoever. I rarely have cash on me but food - that's something I always have so every chance I get I try to hand off my protein bars or Addison's goldfish ;) to those holding signs saying they're hungry or have families in need. Most are really appreciative. I always feel guilty when I don't stop to give so I make it a point to do so every chance I get. They are our brother's and sister's after all, we need to take care of each other here on earth. Who are we to judge? The end.

  5. vickie, that's a good idea and I think it really allows us to involve our kids. my kids will always be the first to point out someone in need and innately their response is to help them. I keep telling them we;re going to buy a big Costco box of granola bares to have on hand- just need to do it.
    Kevin, I'm impressed by your proactive nature. For me and the way I view life, I'm not so much judging, it's their stories that are so intriguing. It's the desire to help people in general see that decisions lead us to a destination. I remember watching a documentary years back about the homeless and the snowball effect that ended in them being homeless. (lost job, couldn't pay bills, got evicted, didn't have a home address to put on applications therefore couldn't get job, etc etc) I also think of the book The Glass Castle. All of it very interesting. Think Globally, Act Locally- I like. And even on a smaller level (because that's where I'm at) just choose to help a little bit instead of not at all. And allie i think that line of thought applies to what you said as well- the idea of doing something instead of nothing.

  6. Am I the only person on this earth that has never come across a friendly homeless person?! Especially in LA?! When we lived in Santa Monica, the 3rd street prominade was littered with homeless asking for money. I always try not to give money because every year around Christmas time the homeless sheleter comes on the radio and asks people please not to give money to the homeless on the street, it enables them, a lot of times the people are really homeless at all, and the money can go to the wrong hands, instead donate the money to shelters and reputable organizations if you want to give so that they can feed, clothe, and provide counseling/ workshops/ etc. to help these people try to make better choices and make the steps to bettering their life. Anyways that being said, Sam and I would always offer food or water, or offer to buy them a McDonalds or something, NEVER, not ONCE did I ever recieve a thank you (not that i needed it) or a YES. but I always was greeted with an F*You or a money only, or an F*Off a time or two.
    That being said, I agree with all of the above comments, we are commanded to give and to serve our fellow man and I agree with that whole heartedly. But I think how we give can be done in different ways, wether that's money, food, a kind hello, etc.
    I ALSO think that we all have free agency, we all have the power to choose. I think that people in those situations have made life decisions that have gotten them to that place. NOT ALWAYS by choice-a lot of times by circumstances, and mental illnesses....BUT we all live in this beautiful FREE country, we all have the same opportunities to work, to have freedom of speech, freedom of religion etc. So I do think it's THEIR responsibility to take ownership for themselves and get out of that situation. People can assist and offer help, programs, etc, but it's their choice to accept that or not, or to search that out or not. Or to pursue work, to change their life around or to stay in their circumstance and wait for someone to do that for them. No one is responsible for you but YOU.
    I'm a firm believer in choices and accountability.
    I hope I don't sound like debby downer. I DO believe in serving and helping out your fellow man, I just think their are different ways to doing it. AND I totally agree with what your Aunt said...everyone FOR SURE deserves the respect of being treated like a human being! I think that's the most important thing hands down and if you teach your kids that and be that example for them, they will be A-OK! They will be like the guy in Coffee Bean.

    I am glad you posted this! I need to be better about being aware, seeking out how I can serve others that is best for THEM and me.

    *probably A LOT of typo's i'm on my phone!

    1. Cam thanks for your honesty. I think there is def the argument of giving money and not being concerned about what they do with it, but by the same token I think a general rule in life is to only do what you're comfotabke with. Like Kevin said, following our gut. I remember some of the stories from your SM homeless people- you've def ran into some of the more testy ones!

  7. Loved this post. i feel like I don't have much advice but I love hearing what others had to say. Being young and I'll admit selfish I usually just drive or walk past with just a friendly smile. When I lived downtown alone I would frequently walk past many homeless people. You had mentioned to me what you wrote in this post awhile back about looking them in the eye. I could do that no matter what, unless I felt like it was unsafe. I had an experience awhile back when a homeless guy asked me for bus money. I was alone, it was dark and he kinda startled me so I quickly shook my head and got in the car. The whole way home something kept telling me to turn around. I could not brush it off and by the time I got home I couldn't get out of the car. I turned around and drove all the way back to find him still standing there. I gave him money that I at the time worked very hard for. I am a young college student, but the way I felt said he needed it more than i did. I think seeing how you feel is best. I struggle at this, but these comments have really opened my eyes to that fact that it doesnt matter what the heck they do with my couple of dollars. I think that is what has always bugged me. They could just go and buy something that would get them through the night... whatever that may be. Great post Gay Gay. I can't help but think of what we talked about, What is YOUR right and wrong???

    1. Ahh chels your story touches my little heart. It's interesting learning how to navigate through life and making all the decisions along the way. but those moments where our heart almost forces us to make a decision- nearly taking away our autonomy- are forever teaching moments that are unforgettable, even if we don't know the exact lesson it was teaching. Thanks for sharing yours! xoxo ms baker

  8. I loved all the comments above! I always love the opportunity to give. Whether it is time, money, a granola bar or just a smile. The feeling that Chels felt was the Spirit, telling her, in that instance, exactly what to do. I love that feeling! People pray every single day. They pray for their family, their friends, servicemen, and even themselves. Do you think homeless people pray? I do. Even the ones who aren't so nice, must wonder every day, where will I sleep? What will I eat? We know that Heavenly Father answers prayers, and it is usually through another person that he answers those prayers. WE are his hands. WE can give those smiles. And WE can put that hand on their shoulder, give them that smile, give them every bit of change the kids can find, and maybe be an answer to a prayer. I love this! We are all brothers and sisters. If you looked at him and thought of your own brother, would you walk by? Have a great one! Love ya little sis! ~Laura


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