Living and working in Iowa City, I unfortunately see a lot of homeless people. I’ve never figured out why there are so many in this small University town. Maybe they are just more visible than they are in small towns. Today I saw one standing on the corner with his dog and something hit me differently.
I always feel sad when I see these (mostly) men. However, this was a young guy maybe late twenties or early thirties. He was standing on the corner with his cardboard sign and his black Lab. His dog was wrapped up in a warm coat. Something told me to give him whatever cash I had. Unfortunately, I only had $1 in my wallet. I motioned to him and he and the Lab walked over to my car. I looked at him and said, “I only have a buck on me, but I hope it helps”. He nodded and said “yes, it will, thank you”. I saw just how young he was underneath the short beard with ice on it from the cold wind and snow. I wondered if it was drugs or alcohol that brought him to this point. Maybe it was mental illness or perhaps he was a Vet from Iraq or Afghanistan who never could quite adapt back into civilian life. His dog was probably all he had in this world.
As I drove away, I began to cry. I couldn’t understand why. I see these guys all the time in Iowa City. There are the ones who you know not to walk too close to when you’re walking to the library. There are ones that are on the edge of violence. This guy seemed different and my heart hurt for him. He seemed like someone’s brother, or son, or maybe once someone’s husband. Just like all of the homeless people, and just like them he ran into hard times. I don’t know his story but I prayed for him through tears. I was also thankful for the blessings I have. I don’t have a big house, but I have a home. I don’t drive an expensive car, but I have a car that gets me around and keeps me warm in the winter. I don’t have a lot of money, but I can pay my bills and keep food on the table. That’s really all I need. That guy could be any one of us, including me, if our lives had taken a different path.
I know some of you will say these guys are scammers and I know some are. But maybe one of those men or women is someone who has a story. Maybe someone will touch your heart and you’ll see there’s a bigger picture outside your own little world. Maybe we will be slower to judge and be thankful for what we have. I hope he and his dog find a warm, dry place tonight.