In the weeks prior to the Coronavirus bringing everything to a halt in the United States, I had been working in a large city near where I live. I would take the train into the city and during my lunch break, I would go for a long walk.
I started the walks to try to increase my daily step count, but they turned into something else altogether.
On one such walk, I happened to notice a guy from a long way off. He was hard to miss. He was walking with a friend or coworker and talking animatedly with his hands—one hand went one way, the other went the other.
To top it off, when he got closer, he strangely reminded me of Rob Lowe. He had the same boyish good looks. You couldn’t look at him and not think of The Outsiders, St. Elmo’s Fire, West Wing or Parks or Recreation. I noticed Rob Lowe or, should I say, “the Rob Lowe look-alike,” because of his hands, but I stayed watching because of what he did next.
In one fell swoop, he reached down and placed the Styrofoam container with his leftovers from his lunch that he had been carrying with him and handed it to a faceless homeless guy sitting on the ground with his back against the building wall. The move happened so fast, in one smooth motion, that I’m sure most of the other passersby missed it. For the homeless guy, though, it was an unforgettable gesture of generosity. A smile for the slimmest of seconds spread across his face only to disappear and be replaced by a pale, blank stare.
Most times when I walked to or from the train or around the hub-bub of the city to get in my 10,000 steps for the day, I usually walked with my head down, steering clear of potential trouble. After taking note of the homeless guy though, I forced myself to take more interest and notice of my surroundings, everything from the homeless to the mother running to her second or third job, the policeman watching over the bustling rush hour to the food truck worker setting up his cart for the day.
Statistically, most people are closer to being homeless than they are to being millionaires. In January 2018, 552,830 people were counted as homeless in the United States, according White House figures. Of those, 194,467 (35 percent) were unsheltered, and 358,363 (65 percent) were sheltered. The overall homeless population on a single night represents 0.2 percent of the U.S. population, or 17 people per 10,000 in the population.
In the days since COVID, these numbers have gone nowhere but up.
The coronavirus pandemic has cost more than 30 million workers their jobs, since the U.S. began shutting down large parts of the economy in March and the job losses continue to mount. Job or not job, people still have housing expenses.
Like most people, I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over, but when it is, I’ll be much more sympathetic to the plight of the people I see on the street. I pray for their safety, give to causes that help, and I’ll keep them in mind when I have extras at lunch.