Today I was early for a lunch meeting with a friend in the digital media industry. We were meeting near Central Station.
Central Station at noon was moderately crowded but I found an empty seat in the main concourse, close to the shops.
I was browsing through the HBR blog on my iPad when I sensed someone standing nearby. I looked up and saw a lanky guy with a duffel bag slung over his shoulders. Soft, sad eyes. Drooping shoulders. Hesitant.
“May I please have some money for food? I am a homeless man.”
He did not fit what I expected of a homeless man. The ones that I see on George Street. His clothes hung on him, but they were clean. He was not scruffy. And his words were clear as a bell. Was he telling the truth?
“I would like to help you. Sit down next to me and tell me what happened.”
The details are bare. Damien* lost his job last year. Goods handler in a warehouse. Struggling. On his own. Family in another country. A few friends. Waiting for a spot at a men’s shelter. Hungry.
I gave him money for food.
Then I remembered listening to the radio last week about homeless people. Apparently many of them have mobile phones – one of the last items they hang on to.
“Do you have a mobile phone? Would you like to give me your number, just in case I meet someone else who may be able to point you to a job.” He scribbled down his name and number on a scrap of paper and gave it to me.
Then I mentioned that I also know of an organisation, ShoreCare at Chatswood, that provides free vegetables, fruit and bread, and affordable groceries for people in need like him. My friends volunteer there. His eyes lit up. “When are they open?”
I found a piece of paper in my bag, hurriedly scribbled the address. A brief pause. I added my name and phone number. Then I offered, “Would you like me to pray with you?” “Yes.”
What is the price of giving hope to those who are struggling? A few dollar bills? A conversation? A few minutes of my time? Practical help?
I was not prepared for that situation today. But I am glad that I was able to help beyond that one meal.
The last time I saw Damien, he was queueing at Hungry Jack’s at Central Station.
* not his real name to protect his identity