Friday, February 5, 2010


Happy New Year! A little late. I know. Things have been a little busy in Lisa Land! This entry is not characteristic of what I have posted before, but I was inspired to write it. Hopefully that is reason enough.


On Monday night I met Leonard.

He started talking to me while I was on the phone with a friend and asked for $2 to get a burger. My knee jerk reaction was to say, "no". What would he really do with the $2? Then a wave of guilt followed, knowing I had just exited a planning meeting with an organization to help homeless families regain housing and jobs. I was ashamed at how quick I was to reject the person I just said I was committed to helping. As a compromise, I told him I would buy him a burger just up the street at Johnny Rockets. He politely refused and said if I just gave him $5, he could get a burger, fries and a drink at a place near his area. By this point I was dead set on knowing where my money was going and I continued walking fast toward Johnny Rockets.

"Leonard," I said, "I'm going to get you something better! And it will probably cost even more!" He tried to reason with me and repeated, "Baby, please, I want to go to the place down the street, a burger, fries and drink for $5! I know it's good." A couple walked quickly past me, uncomfortable at the scene was starting to make. I didn't budge. "Have you even tried Johnny Rockets? It's good...come on, follow me. I'll get you some food." Leonard was not convinced, but continued to follow me, bumbling and fumbling, trying to reason that his place was better. I was agitated. "I'm doing you a FAVOR, Leonard!" Eventually he settled on Subway. He was giddy and asked if he could get chips and a soda too. I fought past my annoyance at Leonard, and asked about his life. How long has he been this way? Did he have a job? If he wasn't on disability what would he be doing? I felt peoples' eyes staring at me in the restaurant. They seemed to say, you are perpetuating the cycle of homelessness in Downtown LA by giving this man a hand out. I knew it was true. And as I learned about Leonard's current situation, I knew that he wasn't trying to get back on his feet again any time soon.

But what was I supposed to do? Leave him to starve? Leonard would have gone around asking for food or money until he got some anyway. When I encounter homelessness I am filled with frustration. I've come to understand that there are a lot of systems and cycles that knock people down push them to live on the streets. But that knowledge leaves me feeling even more powerless. I want to love those that are less fortunate and do something more than hand out food. I desire to see past my prejudices and not see homelessness as just another problem we have to clean up.

So what do I do?

Lord, help me with the powerlessness I feel, give me a heart of compassion and wisdom to make a difference.


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  2. hey lisa, you did the right thing. im 100% sure that the people looking at you were thinking about how annoying it was for them to have to dine at the same place as a homeless person. they weren't thinking about you perpetuating the cycle of homelessness (if they thought that, they think more critically than most churches that think they're helping by handing out free meals in macarthur park!) sometimes people just need people to treat them as people rather than invisible entities that inconvenience them along the way. and you took the time to help leonard get a meal, rather than just give him money... and without accountability there's no way of knowing where leonard would have spent it (though our worst case scenarios probably wouldn't be that far off the truth). the ten minute encounter with you was probably the most human he's felt in a while... hopefully that reminder can be one of those wake up calls that provides leonard the volition to start trying to get off the street permanently.

  3. Wow. Convicting and honest post, Lisa. This happened to me too on a snowboarding trip. We were stopping at McD's for a bathroom break, and outside there was a weather-beaten woman with thinning hair pushing all her belongings on a wheelchair, asked for a dollar. We all immediately said no, including me. I said no because I didn't have a dollar. The smallest I had was $5 dollars. And I felt so hypocritical and convicted because here we are blowing hundreds of dollars to stay at a resort and slide down a mountain and I couldn't even spare my $5? Luckily she was still around by the time I dug out my stupid $5 bill. But it didn't abate the guilt or sorrow because this was one of the very few times I actually helped instead of turning away. And my $5 pales in comparison to the money I spend day to day.

  4. I think it's great that you took the time to actually talk to Leonard and find out his story; however, it is not always practicable. Therefore, I always keep a stack of 5$ gift cards to McDonald's in my purse for these kinds of situations. I don't have too many encounters with homelessness where I live, but whenever I do, I am always glad that (at least for that day) that person can get themselves a hot meal.


  5. i tihnk the hand outs are an easy way to start relating too, like it's not just about giving food, but i tihnk a huge part is humanizing, im hoping to address both immediate food/clothing needs but also working with the church in addressing long term needs


  6. Mother Teresa never felt the pressure to solve a major social problem. Instead, she just wanted to help one person at a time and as many as she could. If we all did the same it'd make great change. I've had many homeless people leave after being told to wait for me to return with burger and fries. But, maybe next time I'll have the guts to offer a conversations or extend a hand of friendship instead?