Thanks for all your responses on the column I wrote about the homeless man I encountered in West Covina in Eastland shopping center who refused cash and food.
Here is what Barbara wrote to me in an email:
I read your article in the Tribune yesterday. That dear man has been in that spot for at least 4 years and before that was on the bus stop bench on Barranca right before the 10 east on ramp. A couple of years ago I asked him if I could buy him some food. I don’t remember if he spoke or just shook his head no. I thought maybe he just wasn’t hungry at that time so I offered to buy him a gift card for food. No again.
If you find out his story, please let us your readers know.
And what Steve Barad wrote:
… just read this article and had to reply. i had almost the exact same experience outside the olde world deli a month or two ago. before i entered the store, i saw this old black man standing over a shopping cart seemingly taking inventory of his empty soda bottles and cans. even w/the heat, he seemed to be wearing a black (or dark colored) winter coat.
i placed my order and ordered a ham & cheese w/a soda to give to the man. when i took the food to him he refused it by nodding “no”. i tried to offer it to him a few more times and he kept saying no. i finally tried to just give him the soda and he refused that by shaking his head and pointing to his chest. i finally gave up.
whether or not it’s the same man, something is wrong w/a society that can allow a person to go through what this man is going through. civil rights to be left alone be damned. he should be off the streets. between the economy and the ever growing acceptance of “ive got mine, screw the rest of humanity,” i feel this problem will only get worse.
steven l. barad
I would have to believe that the agencies in the East San Gabriel know about this man. Has he refused help? And what then does that mean? Must he just get sick and die out there in the exposure?
If you missed my column (Opinion pages, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News, Pasadena Star-News) I’ll repeat it here for you. But if you have any comments or suggestions, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Scauzillo: Homeless plus heat equals despair
Posted: 08/30/2012 01:56:23 PM PDT
I walked by a homeless man in West Covina and offered him cash, and he wouldn’t take it.
Let me say that again: He turned down cash.
I reached into my wallet and pulled out two singles and handed them to him. He just shook his head.
Flabbergasted, I instead offered him my combination chicken and beef bowl with mixed veggies that I had just purchased from Waba Grill.
I mumbled something like this: “Um, OK. Well, are you hungry? I have this.”
Again, he waved it off with a shake of the head.
I was frozen there for 10 seconds on the hot sidewalk on the backside of the Eastland Shopping Center. He stood silent in the 100-degree heat, oddly covered in clothing up to his neck, a shopping cart filled with plastic bottles and other stuff separating me from him.
As I walked past him to my car, started it up and turned on the AC, my mind raced with questions. Is he OK? Why did he refuse my money? My food? And why does this make me feel bad?
It’s been two days since the encounter and I haven’t been able to think of anything substantial since then.
I called my friend the Rev. Andy Bales, chief executive officer of the Union Rescue Mission in Skid Row. We once worked together at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena – he the minister of outreach and me on a congregational lay committee trying to reach out to the poor in the San Gabriel Valley. And yes, that included what Bales calls his “homeless friends.”
Bales has worked with the homeless for 25 years. He is an expert on the topic and I can say with certainty he’s encountered every possible situation.
Except this one.
“I’ve never had that happen to me. I don’t remember anyone turning down food or money, especially money,” Bales said Thursday.
I started like a journalist, going down the options. Is he a fraud? You know, like those guys on the off-ramps of the 210 Freeway with the cardboard signs?
“No, a fraud would’ve taken your money,” Bales said. “That’s why I don’t normally offer money.”
I got caught up with Andy, who is recovering from some major health issues, and then I could hear him scratching his head, figuratively, of course, pondering my question.
He was stumped.
“I can’t figure out why,” he said, softly.
Then he had a theory. Maybe this man was so discouraged that he was giving up. I remembered that I walked by him once and ignored him, and the second time is when I offered him cash. At no time did he ask me for money. He never panhandled.
Those guys in Downtown L.A., or even parts of Pasadena, usually have a line: “You have any spare change?” Or sometimes it’s: “Hey, can you spare me some bus fare?”
This guy looked tired, his lips encrusted in a white film. He barely moved. Yet he stood. His sad eyes staring out onto the street.
“At what point does a person reach such despair that he is dismissal?” Bales asked, rhetorically.
Bales said he often helps homeless people find temporary shelter at the Union Rescue Mission, at 545 S. San Pedro St., L.A., CA 90013.
Many individuals and families are referred to him from case workers and nonprofit agencies operating in the San Gabriel Valley.
Just the day before, a case worker named Clarence had called and said a young mother and her three young children needed a place to stay. Andy took them in.
The flow of homeless from our region, where few beds are available, to Skid Row is a common occurrence. “It is happening all the time,” Bales said.
July was a record month for homeless people sheltered at the Union Rescue Mission, he said. The number reached 900 by the end of the month, he said.
What can we do when we encounter a homeless person?
Bales spoke some simple advice. Next time you see him, don’t offer him money – offer him your friendship.
“Find out his story,” Bales said, “rather than trying to offer him something.”
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