We often pass them by without even noticing they’re there. Homelessness is a rising problem, and for those to take the time to learn people’s story the rewards can be profound. Today, people on Quora share the most powerful thing they’ve heard a homeless person say.
Comments have been edited for clarity. The source can be found the end of the article.
I had just wrapped up my work week. It was a Friday and I was really looking forward to heading home, working on my 6 pack (brew, not abs) and getting lost in the world of Fallout 4 on my Xbox. Id parked my car about 0.2 miles from my workplace and I was walking on the street towards the garage.
At a fair distance I see a man digging through what looked like a worn out rucksack. He was in my direction so passing by him was inevitable. As I approached closer, I realized that his attire and appearance fitted the description of a homeless man. I wasnt surprised since that street was known to have quite a few homeless shelters.
To be honest I was in no mood to entertain a conversation about not having spare change so I fastened my pace of walking.
When I was in close proximity to the man, he approaches me and literally blocks my path with his arm. I am disappointed, frustrated and to be honest a little scared.
He stops digging into his rucksack and looks up to me:
Man: Excuse me sir, do you have a moment?
I was surprised that he did not ask me for food or money.
Me: Umm, Im in a bit of a hurry.
Man: This will only take a moment.
Me: (reluctantly) Okay sure.
Man: Give me a moment. I just need to find something.
He continues digging into his rucksack. I feel a little anxious.
Me: What are you looking for?
Man: Aha! Found it.
He pulls out a piece of paper. He unfolds it and shows it to me.
Man: Sir, can you point me towards the street that leads up to this address?
Me: Umm, Yeah sure. Let me take a look at it.
It was a printed document with a list of restaurants. It had a list of about 7 restaurants around that street and the title of the document read:
Free Dinner rolls available here on Fridays
I immediately had a lump in my throat.
I instantly recognized the restaurant he was pointing to on the piece of paper.
Me: Yeah I know this place. You see the traffic light in front of you? Take a left on that street and walk for a little less than a quarter of a mile. You will see a sky-walk between 2 buildings, like a bridge. This place is right beneath the sky-walk.
His face turned from a look of exhaustion to sheer ecstasy.
Man: Oh thank you sir, thank you. Free dinner rolls. Its worth the wait since last Friday.
I was left speechless just by his expression and sincerity. I felt bad, really bad.Not for the homeless man alone, but for the way I tried to avoid him initially. And for what? To play Xbox?
I instantly take my wallet out and notice that I have a few coins and a $20 bill.
Me: (handing over the $20) Sir, here you go. You dont have to wait until next Friday now.
Man: (with a radiant smile) Thank you sir, thank you, thank you.
He walks away. To an extent Im glad he did. I needed some time to let the moment sink in.
The most powerful thing he showed me with a few words was his pure joy of finding someone who could help him find a place that gives out free dinner rolls and how he found it worthwhile waiting for this moment for 7 days.
Talk about putting things into perspective and taking things for granted.
I learned more that day from the homeless man than I did that entire week at work.
I was staying at the Grand Hilton near Union Square. Little did I know that it is also near The Tenderloin District, a part of San Francisco notorious for being overrun with the homeless and the unwell.
So I’m walking down the street talking to this guy on the phone.
Then I accidentally make eye contact with a clearly unwell homeless lady across the street. And this is the kind of awkward eye contact where you cant just ignore the person easily. You know theyve seen you.
She darts across the street, through traffic, and starts to follow me.
Im still talking to the guy and start walking a bit faster.
She walks faster.
I tell him I have to go, as I think I am being followed by a crazed homeless lady. So I walk even faster.
I realize shes yelling something at me.
I am being catcalled by a crazy homeless lady.
So I start running. She starts running after me, still yelling at me.
I run at least two blocks. I cant recall. She doesnt let up.
I dart across a set of trolley tracks and the trolley passes behind me, cutting her off.
So, the most powerful thing a homeless person ever said (screamed) to me was, HELLO GORGEOUS! Powerful enough to get me, a 511, 190 lb man, to sprint away from her.
I’m not a hero … those guys are the heroes. The ones who didn’t make it back.
Driving down La Cienega Blvd late one night, I stopped to turn right at a stoplight intersection. A man crossing the crosswalk in front of me on crutches flagged me down and gave me a heads up that my headlights were off. I waved back the universal thanks gesture to him, he waved back, and continued on his way. I realized as he hobbled away that he was probably homeless, and found it a bit unique and compassionate that he didnt ask for any cash.
Typically homeless people will ask for money if you get into a dialogue with them, and especially if they help you with something (Im not condemning this; they need to survive somehow). But this fellow helped me and didnt ask for anything! Well, I complete my turn and parallel park on the side of the street next to the ATM. Getting out, I realized he’s heading to the same place; a bench near the Bank Of America parking lot. As Im getting cash, I feel an urge to talk to him.
Lately I’ve realized – a ton of the homeless people I see everyday when Im driving around are actually homeless veterans! That, through them joining the army and fighting for our country, the result is them ending up on the streets. That’s how they’re repaid. So, I walk over, thank him for the headlight tip, and ask if hes a veteran (had a feeling considering he was missing his right leg below the knee). He says yes he is, and what’s up? He has an old timer vibe, not a needy person. Like that ‘tell it like it is, I get by on my own accord.’
I mention Im working on a project about veterans and ask if I can chat with him for a few minutes. I pay him for his time.
He says that’s fine, and I give him a $20.
What followed was great conversation (probably more insightful for me than him, I think). He tells me how he joined the Army back in the 70s – his friends were all doing it. Went to the recruiting office, barely passed an eye exam but cheated the answers from a friend. Was soon sent to training, and ended up out in the fields fighting in Vietnam. Had some crazy adventures to tell, many laughs and many sorrows. Ultimately, he lost his leg.
Did I mention he liked to laugh? It was amazing in itself to hear the first-hand story of someone who grew up in the 70s, spent their youthful years fighting the Vietcong and now makes their way surviving on the streets of Los Angeles.
One of the most surprising things was the quote I listed at the beginning of this answer.
Although he was permanently disabled fighting for his country, he didn’t even consider himself any kind of hero. Hes just sad for his friends who died fighting, and considers them the real heroes.
It reminds you – the world is such a crazy, random place. It has many virtues – but being fair isn’t one of them. Some people give their all and end up the worse for it. It’s incredible that we have this situation with our veterans. Supposedly the best country in the world, but so many are left behind. Ones whose life has changed for the worse defending our country. And it’s common! There’s lots of veterans on the streets!
The conversation continued for about an hour. He asked me about myself a good amount and had advice for me.
When we were done, he thanked me for chatting with him. Said I was a nice young man and that nobody really chats with him like his.
It was a nice conversation. So insightful. I wish I could do more but for now just raising awareness through a song. A video. This post. If you’re reading this, next time you see a homeless person, try and say something nice, or at least acknowledge them. You never know their story, the battle theyre fighting, or past battles theyve fought for our country.
I went to get cash from an ATM on Market Street in San Francisco. It was one of those glass-doored-off but visible-to-the-street setups with two ATMs. One was being used and the other had a red sign saying out of order or some such thing.
While waiting for the good machine to free up I observed a homeless-looking old man walking… slowly, painfully… down the other side of the street.
Suddenly the out-of-order machine came to life and spat out a $20 bill. Just two of us in the space, me and the guy on the good machine.
I took the $20, held it up and said out loud Is this anybodys? The other guy looked strangely at me.
I pocketed the bill, withdrew what I needed from the now working machine, and then headed towards the homeless guy. He looked 70 years old from afar, but when I got close I realized he was probably about 50.
I told him about the magic machine, said the cash just popped out, that it wasnt mine, and I figured he could use it.
Eyes lit up, he absorbed what had happened, took the $20, and said:
WHERE IS THAT MACHINE?!? and then staggered quickly off in the direction I sent him.
It was the morning after the night before, a Good Friday, and three of us were taking a walk through Glaway. As we passed by we observed a well known homeless man who all of a sudden faced us and rasped:
Dont look at me, look at yourselves!
I found that to be very profound. All my pretentiousness and assumptions that I was on the better path collapsed. At that point he was the sage and I was not.
Im not asking you for money, I am asking you for .83 cents to go with the $2.17 I have to buy YOU some oil…
I left home (again) at 17. No big deal, I was finishing up a probation stint and more than ready to get away from the addiction and hypocrisy that was haunting me there. Having been in and out of juvenile detention centers my whole life, I knew my next stop was prison if I didnt get myself together. So leaving was my only option.
My mother gave me an uninsured, beat up Ford Explorer that was hers previously. I drove to the next biggest city, Tallahassee Florida.
I had some family I crashed with here and there, but my family hasnt always been much like family. I landed myself a job at another truck stop in no time. It was a fast food chain, Subway. Some nights I slept at Lake Ella in my truck, only eating what food I could snag from work. Showering at the truck stop for a $5 fee. I was homeless.
I crashed on friends couches and one friend always graciously snuck me in her Dads house to crash with her. I made it and while it wasnt great, it wasnt absolutely terrible either.
Fast forward a few months. I met a man from Ethiopia who employed me, so I had 2 jobs. Neither were in Tallahassee though, and my truck was having problems driving to Gadsden County everyday. I worked 117 am at Subway and then had to drive to my next job from 7:303 pm.
I was tired and my truck was running hot and it was pouring rain. I was considering going back home to the abuse and problems but then…
eI stopped at the next gas station up the street to add some coolant, when a homeless man approached me, drink in hand. Good morning, please let me help you, when you to take that top off, youre going to get hurt young lady. I snapped back at him, Look, I dont have any money to give you. Ive been dealing with this for a while now, I got it. He just sits back down, doesnt say a word. I tinker with my truck, add coolant, but great, the coolant is full, it doesnt need coolant. Wonderful, it needs oil!!!! I have no money. I have a check I havent cashed but not one red cent on me.
Tears started streaming down my face. I was screwed and about to lose my other job. (Or so I thought.)… But then:
The homeless man comes to my window and signals for me to roll it down. I do hesitantly. Thats when he asked me for .83 cents. Angrily, I told him again, I am broke. Please, Im having a hard time right now, dont ask me for any more money. Ive never really been a mean person, bipolar yes, not mean. The words hit my stomach as soon as they came out my mouth, but what came out of his mouth was the big knock out.
Im not asking you for money, I am asking you for .83 cents to go with the $2.17 I have to buy you some oil…
He bought me some oil and put it in for me. As the sky cried, so did I. I was so ashamed of myself, the way I treated this man was atrocious and I had to make my wrong right. After adding the oil, he drops my hood and slaps my hood twice. I guess thats the universal sign of, well, off you go. He smiled as I thanked him and pulled away. I called my boss and told him what happened. I then told him Id be late because I had a bill I had to pay. I had to pay this man back. I had a check for less then $300. I went to the bank and cashed it immediately, praying the whole time this man would be sitting in front of that store & he was. This time I literally jump out, ask him to go inside and purchase me a brew and get me a brown bag.
I give him the money and he asks what kind, I just tell him, your kind and to grab himself another one also. He comes back and offers me his crate, I decline and plop on the ground right next to him. A 211 Steel Reserve, gotta be the worst brew ever. He watched my face as I took the first sip and he burst out laughing.
He told me about his life and I told him about mine. He was shocked, but then, so was I. We had so much in common. Hed been in the streets 20+ years. One day, his mental health plummeted. He was a veteran and after so much stress with bills and trying to keep a family together… he just left. He felt like a failure, but so did I.
I went to his fort he had in the woods, it was the coolest tree house ever. Id bring friends back there over the next year and wed hang out and talk to him; we all named him Buddy. Hed come by the truck stop and Id hook him up. All he wanted was meatball subs and a shower every so often.
I didnt see Buddy for 3 days and made it my business to stop by his fort after work early one morning. It was cold and dark, I was kind of afraid. Using my phone for a flashlight, I approached his fort. I could hear a grunting sound. First it was uhh, uhh.. then it was uhhhh uhhhhh.
I knew Buddy was hurt. I came running to find him at the bottom steps of his fort. I thought maybe hed had too much to drink and fallen. He said he hadnt drank in days, hed ate some beef jerky Id bought him but couldnt keep that down. Buddy was very sick. I couldnt carry him and he couldnt walk. He was adamant the ambulance couldnt come because the cops would make him knock down his home. I grabbed some blankets from his tent up top and wrapped him up promising to come back.
The only soul I knew was the Ethiopian man whom I worked for. He was a classy business man, and initially was very reluctant to help. He flat out told me NO! I begged and pleaded, crying my eyes out and then he relented. We had to carry him out together and take him to the hospital and we did.
I checked on him, visiting as much as I could and hed call me everyday. We talked more then than we ever did. I loved this man, he was my family. We learned Buddy was terminally ill and wasnt expected to make it much longer. He had no insurance and the hospital was releasing him to go home with referrals to places Buddy couldnt afford. I picked him up that day and he said matter of factly, Well Bea, Im dying, I dont know how else to tell you. But I am. Im not one to believe in a God, but if there is one, he gave me the best friend I ever had outside of war, in a 4 foot nothing teenager & that would be you.”
I guess Ill wander back home and meet my daughter, you think shell like me ? I always thought Id have enough time to right my wrongs, but I dont. Please right your wrongs. What if she hates me? He began sobbing uncontrollably. Buddy has no idea that I righted one of my wrongs through him a year ago while drinking a 211 and becoming his confidant.
I asked him his daughters name, being very careful to remember. We went and got food and I checked him into a motel room, except I got 2 beds. Me and Buddy were going to have a final farewell sleep over. While Buddy was showering, I got on my phone searching Facebook for his daughter.
She wasnt hard to find, but I was so afraid Buddy would be turned down. If he had no place to go I couldnt allow him to wander around aimlessly with nothing or no one. So I reached out and explained everything, hoping this woman was the right one. The only thing she wrote back was her phone number and in cap locks, PLEASE CALL ME NOW.
I dashed outside in the cold and phoned her, she was crying and asking to please speak with her Dad. She explained she missed and loved him dearly, he wasnt a bad Dad. No, in fact he was a great father and she knew his struggle. Even as a 6 year old child, when he left, she knew and shed always been waiting. How amazing was her empathy?! I explained his health and that he wanted to come home. She just began thanking God. When I walked in, he was dressed sitting on the bed watching Tom & Jerry, laughing hysterically.
Me: Telephone Buddy.
Buddy: What, for me?
Me: *shakes head w/ tears*
When he heard his daughters voice he knew her immediately. I gathered my things to give them privacy. I went to the motel lobby and booked him the next greyhound to Killean, Texas where she lived and was married to a military man with their 4 kids!
I dropped him off at the bus station at 2 PM on that Tuesday. Hair cut, brand new clothes, some cash, and a positive outlook for the rest of his life. We spoke until he could no longer speak, and then his daughter kept me informed.
He died 7 months later. I didnt make it to his burial, but I didnt have to. His real name was Thomas, but he will always be my Buddy!!
If you search for the good in people, you surely will find it.