Thursday, August 4, 2011

It's Not Just About the Cash

I have been reading a blog written by my Twitter friend, Dustin, for a while. He writes at Abraham Chronicles and I definitely recommend you go over and check his blog out if you have a chance. On Monday he guest posted on The Compelling Parade. It was a great post on following through and it spurred me to make a visit to my homeless friend that sells The Contributor near the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in downtown Nashville.

Our post office box is in the post office located in the same building as the Frist. Almost every day there is someone standing outside on the corner selling The Contributor, Nashville's homeless paper. I needed to check our box and this would give me an opportunity to check on my friend, Mike, whom I haven't seen selling papers for several weeks. When I reached the corner I noticed Mike wasn't there, but another person was selling papers. As I walked by I said hello and asked if he'd sold many papers. He said no and told me that it was probably because of the heat.

As I have become accustomed to doing, on my way out of the post office I stopped and started a conversation with him. I asked him some of the usual questions I ask and just generally tried to engage him a little. I learned that he was from Grand Rapids, MI and he came to Nashville because the economy is so bad there he couldn't find work. He's lived here for 7 months and has been living on the street the entire time. I also learned that some vendors can make upwards of $1,000 per month selling the paper. He told me that he could probably get a job at a hotel doing maintenance, but after taxes are taken out he doesn't bring home as much as he can selling the paper. He also asked me if I had seen Mike. This bothers me because the last time I saw Mike he was very down and seemed ready to give up. I hope that isn't the case.

As I was starting to leave I told my new homeless friend that I didn't have any cash or I would buy a paper from him. In response he said, "No problem, it's not just about the cash anyway." Of the 15 minutes or so that I stood and talked to him, this is what keeps coming back to me over and over. "It's not just about the cash." It's about contact and relationships. It's about conversation and community. Sure, they want, and need money, but they also want someone to talk to. Someone to care. Someone to inquire. I don't know if he had talked to anyone at all the other day. I do know that if I would have stayed I probably could've talk to him all afternoon. "It's not just about the cash."

If you see a homeless person and stop to talk to them, what are some of the things you ask them? What are some of the things you avoid saying or asking?

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