Something happened on my way to work that left me speechless and in tears. I was stopped at a red light when I noticed a man walking towards the intersection. My first thought was, “Why does he have a pale pink back pack?” It seemed out of place. Then he stopped walking, turned towards the cars and opened a cardboard sign that said:


He was staring straight ahead, this man who I would place in his mid-forties. Who was clean shaven, but whose eyes were empty. His shirt was clean, but his backpack was pink. He looked tired. He looked depressed.

I’ve seen people asking for money at this intersection before. I’ve always been stumped when it comes to homelessness. I admit I haven’t researched the issue or given it as much thought as some of the other problems in our country that I’ve donated my time or money towards. When I pull up to these intersections where I see homeless people, I feel sad. I can’t just sit there jammin’ to cool tunes and pass by another human being without some emotion passing through me. I rarely, if ever, give people money. But I will freely give away food I have in my car – typically fruit or a lunch-size bag of chips.

So on this morning, I was the second car stopped at the light and the homeless man was standing closer to car #1. Remember, he was looking straight ahead, not making eye contact. All of a sudden I see a water bottle fly out the back window of the car ahead of me – towards the homeless man. I was in shock – did that child REALLY just throw something at a homeless person? That child was likely between the ages of 7-10 by my estimation. I saw a woman in the front seat turn her head and say something, but she didn’t seem angry. And she didn’t get out of the car to pick up the bottle. Then, a heartbeat later, the kid threw food out the car – again towards the homeless man.

My jaw dropped open and I was horrified at what I was witnessing. The man kept staring straight ahead. He didn’t even flinch. But I saw a shift in his face. He knew what happened. And I felt the need to do something, anything, to get him away from that situation and restore perhaps a teeny tiny part of dignity. I searched my passenger seat and my purse for food. Nothing. I checked my wallet – I had a $5 bill. I rarely carry cash, but I had some. I rolled down my window and waved and the man came over immediately. I handed him the money and said, “I’ll pray for you.” Our eyes met. He said, “Thank you.” His eyes were sincere.

It was so degrading. It was painful to watch. I was angry. I was sad. I was mortified. Not at ALL because of this man or his status as homeless, which tends to bring out strong feelings in many people. But because I witnessed a child, a child, treat him like dirt. Would I have been just as upset if it were an adult throwing things at him. Yes, of course. But in this situation, there was a MOTHER who should have done something. She did not seem upset at all (although I couldn’t hear her). Maybe she didn’t even know about it, although I had the impression she knew about the water bottle…

The light turned green. I pulled away. I said a prayer for him and tears started pouring down my cheeks. How can anyone treat another person like that? How can a child be raised to believe that it’s okay? How awful for that man to experience someone throwing garbage at him.

I don’t care if he’s homeless.
Or begging for money.
Or black or white or purple or green.
Or even carrying a pink back back.

As a human being, I have a responsibility to treat every person I encounter with dignity and respect. As a mother, I have a giant responsibility to teach my children to do the same.

Too often we move through our days without paying much attention. We ignore things we don’t want to see. We look the other way. We make excuses and blame other people for our behavior. We justify it. I don’t know yet how that experience has changed me or will change me. I know it touched my heart and soul and I felt compelled to tell you all about it.

Coincidentally, my friend Monika (who blogs at Nightlight Journeys) posted on facebook tonight about a new Minneapolis/St. Paul organization that is raising money and awareness for homelessness initiatives. It’s called the Homeless Help Network and today Chris, the organizer, is looking for donations of bottled water to distribute to the homeless to help them stay hydrated on very hot days like we’ve been having lately in Minnesota. Take a look at his web site and see if you are moved to help.
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22 Responses to “Dignity and respect for homeless individuals”

  1. Amber says:

    Heartbreaking. Just heartbreaking. 🙁

  2. Monika says:

    As I'm reading this, I'm sitting with my mouth wide open in disbelief. Every person has a story about how/why they came to be where they are. No one wants to be homeless, no one deserves to be in that situation. At the very least, as human beings, homeless individuals are deserving of our respect. It could be any one of us that finds themselves in their shoes one day. Thanks so much for the link to the new Homeless Help Network website. It's a mission worth supporting & we all should do whatever we can in our own communities.

  3. darcie says:

    Wow. Tthat is just unbelievable. And terribly terribly sad. Recently the kids and I encountered a homeless woman at an intersection in the North Metro – a place we never go. It was a woman in her mid 40's. We were about 8 cars back from where she was standing and the kids were immediately asking questions. Derek, age 3, rolled down his window, stuck his hand out and gave her the sweetest little wave. She smiled & waved back. I do not carry cash either but we talked about giving her a box of pop tarts from our 'car snack supply box' but the light quickly changed & we had to go before we had a chance.
    The kids have talked about that woman many times since that day 2 months ago. My daughter wants to bring her a blanket 'so she doesn't get leaves in her hair when she sleeps' – ugh. No one deserves to be treated so disrespectfully. What a wonderful world this place would be if we all used a kind heart and gave just a teeny tiny bit.
    Thanks for raising awareness – I've been following Chris's blogs and him on twitter for many many months…
    together – we can make a difference.

  4. Gina says:

    Amen, sister. This makes me really sad. Whether it is via the blogosphere or IRL, I cannot wrap my brain around meanness and hate. It makes me so sad. Good for you for posting about this.

  5. Laura says:

    This is heartbreaking. I can't believe a kid (7-10) would be so mean to think that's OK to do. His mom did nothing but you did something to restore the man's dignity. I don't want to just sigh and say this is a terrible world we live in. I want everyone to learn from this story. I talk to my daughter daily about being kind and doing the right thing. Thanks.

  6. Melissa says:

    Hey! I've never commented on your blog before (I don't think?), but I've been a reader for quite a while. I also live in the Twin Cities and work in marketing. 🙂 This post really struck a chord within me. I'm glad you turned that unfortunate situation into something beautiful. Hopefully he will think about you for the rest of the day and forget about the kid!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Did you ever think that maybe the child was trying to help. It was a child. He may have been wanting to help but afraid. Your pulling up and giving a $5 bill and saying "I'll pray for you" is no better. You even state in your post you've never really thought about homelessness. How does giving $5 and saying something you don't really mean. It's as bad as the child tossing food to the person (and you don't know what the situation was in the car in front of you). I'm not saying I'm for the person throwing food at a homeless person. I've volunteered to work with homeless people quite a bit. And I can say that driving up and giving $5 is no more help than a person tossing food out their window. If you really care, as you state in your post, then why don't you REALLY do something about it. Learn more. Get involved. Really involved. Not just sitting at your computer patting yourself on the back as a good human being.

  8. LoveFeast Table says:

    I think even small kindnesses matter! Good for you for doing what you could at the moment~at the intersection. ~Chris Ann

  9. Anonymous says:

    Chris of the new homeless network for the Minneapolis/St Paul area is a wonderful person. He is putting others a head of himself when he is homeless. Very inspiring to me.
    MCullen NE

  10. Janelle Halverson says:

    I really don't want to stir a pot here either – but was wondering the same thing as the above commenter (I will put my name on this though). It may be a possiblity the child was simply trying to give the gentleman something – all the child had was a bottle of water and some food – it may sound crude or maybe it's just too optimistic.
    Homelessness must be just horrible and I too struggle with what a person is supposed to do exactly – I think praying is a far from useless thing to do and the money had to have helped some.
    Just putting in my $.02

  11. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for what you did. Share it forward, my friends.

  12. The Marketing Mama says:

    Response Part 1:

    I'd like to thank everyone for reading and sharing your thoughts today. I'm going to respond to a few questions and concerns that came up. It was an interesting suggestion that the boy throwing things might have been trying to help the homeless man. That caused me to stop and reflect on my perception of the situation and if I could have misread it. It's certainly possible, but I also trust my instincts and intuition – and I'm pretty confident what I witnessed was disrespectful behavior.

    The question was also raised if the $5 was really helpful to the man. I've heard many people question what the right thing is to do in a situation when homeless people ask for money. Some people keep gift cards handy for just this purpose. Some people I know *always* give money if they have it, other people I know *never* give money. Obviously there are as many opinions on this as there are people. Like I mentioned in the original post, I've previously offered to share my food (no one has turned me down)… and admitted that I haven't spent much time researching this issue, therefore I did not stop to think in the moment, "What does best practice say is the best ways to help a homeless person when you encounter them asking for money on the corner?" or “What should you do if you see someone being disrespectful to a homeless person?”

    It was a moment in time. A moment I was not prepared for. In that moment I did what felt right to me. I could have looked away. Or I could have honked on the horn and gotten out of the car and confronted the woman in front of me. I could have done any number of things. Or nothing at all. I did what I felt led to do in the moment and I don't regret that.

  13. The Marketing Mama says:

    Response Part 2:

    Someone questioned what saying "I’ll pray for you" would do, and if I was just saying something I didn't mean. Well, this my friends (or new-readers) is a matter of personal belief. Although I don't talk about my faith often here – I am a Believer and certainly my days include praying and communicating with God. I meant it when I said I would pray for him – frankly THAT was giving more of myself than the $5. And, as I mentioned further in the post, I did pray for him a few moments later – so obviously I did mean what I said. 🙂

    It's meaningful to me when others pray for me, and when they *tell me* they will pray for me. Since his sign said "God Bless You" I quickly assumed that he was also a believer and perhaps that comment and offer of prayer meant something to him as well. If not, no big deal. But it was not an empty platitude on my part.

    I wrote this entry as a reflection of an experience that moved me. That's what my blog is for – it's my personal platform to write about my life. My thoughts. My beliefs. The experience was meaningful to me.

    I can only laugh and shake my head at the accusation that my goal was to "pat myself on the back." Or to get good feedback from others as a "do-gooder" in a "cute little mommy blog post about it" as Stephanie/anonymous wrote in the more aggressive comment she later deleted.

    I appreciate being pushed to think about the situation from another angle. And I appreciate the nudge and motivation to DO something. That's great! As I hinted, I'm not sure YET what the experience will mean for me and what impact it will have on my life. I'm still reflecting on it and what I want to do with it. Today I have had some great conversations with others involved in this cause and have some plans to do a few things that I'll share in the near future.

    There are a lot of important issues I feel moved to "Do Something" about… and I do, with my time AND money. I am far from someone who would "sit on my comfy couch" and do nothing. Those of you who know me have witnessed this. Those of you who don't know me yet, I encourage you to keep coming back, or introduce yourself to me if you see me about town. Together we can make a difference in this world. Sometimes that journey starts with a small spark. This was mine.


  14. iamcinnamom says:

    Wonderfully written response, Missy. Handled with grace–which unfortunately doesn't happen that often in the the comments of the blogosphere.

  15. Rita says:

    As I sit here trying to hold back tears (because I am at work), my mouth is wide open shocked at the indecency of people. How could another person do that let alone a child supervised by an adult? After reading the other comments, I question if the child was trying to help then why did he throw the water and food instead of calling out to the man to offer it. A person whether homeless or not is still a person. I think that what you could do at that time was appreciated and hopefully by posting this you can inspire more people to get involved in the homeless assistance efforts. Great post – I loved it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I posted this on my FB and others began reposting on theirs as well. I also share money and food. A local youth group called LOVE IN THE GLOVE BOX suggests people carry gloves in cold weather, and water, snacks, bus tokens, etc to share. Because there are never enough detox beds for chronic alcoholics, many of our neighbors experiencing homelessness die in the cold, or the heat with untreated DT's. We had to spoon whiskey into my Grandpa on his deathbed. My son also has this disease and could have died many times without a medical detox bed. It is a terrible ailment. Thank you for taking the time to write your story. I hope we can support Chris Jenks in his new found mission. God Bless you, Julia

  17. Anonymous says:

    From Sharing our love one stoplight at a time at Love In The Glove Box.
    It is not enough for us to say to ourselves, “There but for the grace of God go I” as we consider the life of those in need among us. We do a disservice to the life (and death) of the speaker of that phrase, John Bradford, when we speak it out of pity.

    It has been said that perhaps a better framing of this phrase is to look at the plight of all humanity, and state firmly, “There go I.”

    There go I…hungry. There go I…homeless. There go I…forgotten. There go I…broken. There go I…alone.

    There go I…oblivious. There go I…justifying. There go I…ignoring. There go I…also broken. There go I…also alone.

    When our personal life intersects with the fate of all humanity, then, and only then, are we truly human. Any life that does not live in the grittiness of that moment fails to live fully.

    This is a place to share your stories about those moments. Stories of trying to be fully human.

    Some are beautiful. Some are downright ugly.

    All of them are owned by all of us.

    As we call ourselves human.

  18. Kim Tracy Prince says:

    Sometimes all we can do is *something.* However big or small, I agree that it's better than nothing. Whenever I face the problem I am moved to at least do something, and it's easier than ever now with the ability to donate goods or funds from the comfort of your desk chair.

  19. The Marketing Mama says:

    Thanks again for the additional dialogue. Another comment on the water bottle – it really did not appear to have water in it… by the way it floated in the air and the way the kid threw it. Again, I certainly could have misinterpreted the situation – but it was my impression that he was being disrespectful and that it was empty.

    It would be great if I was wrong!

  20. Carmen says:

    Made me cry. I'm happy you did exactly what you were moved to do. We can often over-analyze and become skeptical and critical, to the point of inactivity. We can often make excuses why we should look the other way and not help. I am happy that you did not, that you let yourself be moved, and that you took action…even if it was "just" a little money and prayer. If everyone did "just" a little, this world would be a much better place to live! Again…so happy to call you my friend!!

  21. Heather of the EO says:

    Hi you.

    I figured, as I read the post, that you would get some comments like you did.
    People have trouble with simplicity. What you did was not small. The small things really are what add up to bigger things. Sure, we should ALL do MORE, but in your particular moment-you acted on your instinct to love, and that's good. It doesn't have to be analyzed furthur than that.

    I wrote something a long time ago that you might enjoy, since it's about a similar situation (sans the kid throwing stuff-which, even if he was trying to help, was a inhumane way of doing so).

    Thank you, Missy.


  22. Anonymous says:

    When I lived in Houston — where there are TONS more homeless people EVERYWHERE! — I would see the same homeless guys at the same corners every day. I started toting a pack of bottled water in my car for them, as water can be used for drinking, cooling off, washing, cooking, etc. I would wave, make eye contact with the guys and throw the water bottles to them whenever I saw them. They appreciated it every time. I was not degrading them by throwing them things.

    I'd give the kid in the car the benefit of the doubt and hope he was trying to give the man food and drink. And perhaps the mother was uncomfortable and didn't know what to do in the situation. Mercy, people!



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