I was walking through the mist to the PATCO station after a long day at work one February evening in 2012. As I scrolled through my iPhone trying to decide which Radiohead album best fit the weather, I was stopped by a woman whose mascara was running down her cheeks.
"Can you please help me?" she asked, clutching onto her purse and doing her best to choke back the tears. She explained that she had just gotten into an argument with her boyfriend, who took her wallet and phone from her purse and left her stranded in the middle of Center CIty. She was a few inches taller than me and dressed to the nines, about 45 years old.
"I just need $13.10 for the train back to New Jersey and the bus to get home," she cried. I looked her in the eyes while others walked past, seemingly glad that she chose to talk to me and not them. This person in need was nothing more than a nuisance to so many people.
I gauged the situation and gave her the benefit of the doubt. She was older, very upset, dressed particularly well, and she knew exactly how much money she needed to get back home. I believed her and reached into my wallet, giving her $13 and telling her that I really hoped her day gets better. She thanked me several times and I left with a heavy heart. For the rest of the night I had a hard time trying to process how somebody could strand someone in the middle of a city with no way to get home. It seemed so inhumane.
A few days had passed and I couldn't stop thinking about the pain in that woman's eyes. I told a friend what had happened and she stopped me in the middle of the story. The same sobbing woman had put on the same show for her a few weeks prior.
I didn't feel angry. Didn't feel used. I just felt sad that this is the point we've gotten to as a society. I don't care what that woman did with the money I gave her. I cared about the fact that somebody is in a situation where lying and putting on an emotional show for strangers is the only way to make ends meet. I'm fortunate enough to have a home to go every night. The same can't be said for everybody.
Having spent the majority of my life in the whitebread suburbs, I never really had to face the thought of homelessness. Every so often I'd see a homeless person walking through town, but it was nothing like the problem that plagues Philadelphia today. The homeless problem is so prevalent in Philadelphia and barely anything is being done to fix it. These people need help, financially and psychologically, to get off the streets and get a second chance at life. Some are plagued by addiction, medical issues, or mental disabilities that can be treated in most cases, as long as somebody cares enough to offer a helping hand.
No matter how you look at it, we're all human.
This is a point beautifully illustrated by Ronald Davis, a homeless man in Chicago who recently made headlines from a conversation he had with student filmmaker Andrew Messer. Working on a PBS series titled Big Questions, Messer uploaded the conversation to YouTube where it quickly gained recognition and currently has over two million views.
Nothing is said about the circumstances that led Davis to homelessness, but he brings an invaluable perspective to a broken "me first" system that does little to help those who ask for it.
You can ignore everything I've written here, but please take four minutes of your day to watch this video. It's so important to always keep in mind that we're all just people trying to make it here while we're still alive. Treat others with respect and don't assume that homeless people are just faceless beggars. Nobody's life goal is to shake a cup on a streetcorner.
Take a moment today to do something positive. Say hi to a stranger, buy somebody coffee. It doesn't have to be big but it'll seem that way.