Homeless Was Asked To Leave When She Said “She Won’t Do Business With The Store If He Is There.”

Story by Susan Wedeward

I was only 20 years old at the time and had been living in a Chicago suburb for about two years. The lighting store that I managed was situated on a busy street on the north side of the city. Traffic, noise, people, a great deal of coming and going. An individual could get lost here, unnoticed. An individual could try to hide here. Hide from their problems but still try to blend in with society. My story is about such a person.

One cold, autumn day, a woman came into our store and asked to see the manager. She started by telling me that she almost didn’t come into the store at all, but felt she must to register her complaint. She said there was an awful, smelly, unkempt man panhandling outside my door and that I had better get him to leave if I wanted her to shop in the store ever again. I went outside to confront the man, frightened to think of what I might find. He was standing against the small wall between my store and the store next to us. That way, neither store manager could see him and send him on his way. He looked every bit the character that the woman had described to me. Roughed up and unshaven, dirty and disheveled in every way. As people would walk by him, he would ask for money. He looked harmless and dejected, standing bent, fighting the cold. Even so, I approached him at a safe distance and told him that he was scaring away customers and that he would have to go somewhere else. He looked at me very sadly. It was a look that said I was just like everybody else, cold and heartless. He picked up his bag of belongings, worked his way across the busy street and was gone.

As a store manager, I suppose you have to do things like that. But as a person who follows God’s teachings, I felt like a complete failure. I should have done something for him, but what? He was someone’s son or brother or father, who had come on some hard times, and all I did was pass him and his problems on to someone else. From there on I vowed, that if something like this ever happened again, I would make sure I follow my heart and do the right thing. But will I ever get a second chance to help out this poor fellow?

The very next day, I helped my employees tidy up the store and lock up after the days’ business. As I took the garbage out the back door, I saw him again. He was digging in our dumpster, looking for something to eat. I told him to please get down. As he crawled out of the trash, I noticed he had some of my half-eaten sandwich stuffed in his pocket. As he was about to leave, I told him that I would buy him lunch today, but with one condition. He would have to buy the lunch, bring it back to the store and show it to me. That way he would prove to me that he had bought food and nothing else. With a big smile he readily agreed. In about 10 minutes, he came back with a sandwich and a cup of coffee which he showed me through the front store window.

For the next couple of weeks, I bought lunch for this homeless man. As time went by, we had many conversations. I found out that he was in his early 50’s, was married and had kids. I never did find out what it was that had driven him into this predicament. The mere mention of ‘the problem’ caused him great sadness. I asked him where he slept at night and how he dealt with the cold weather. He said he would ride the bus or train all night. Sometimes he would sit in a booth at an all-night diner. Each night would be a different place so as not to “wear out my welcome”. Sometimes he would go to a shelter, but these places were almost always full, especially in winter. But, if someone complained about him and the police picked him up, they would take him to a shelter. In that case, they would have to make room for him.

As it grew colder, in order to keep this man from freezing, I was forced to do just that. At least 4 times I had to call the police so he would be picked up. The officers seemed to be real familiar with this game and always took him to the shelter with a sly smile. But, since this was no solution, I started calling some of the large, established aid organizations. Between the two that I talked to, one said he was too old for help and the other said he was too young. Who knew there were age restrictions on being homeless! I then called several churches and finally found one a few blocks away that would help him.

I didn’t hear from the man for several months. The church volunteer who picked him up said they would do their best. Winter turned to spring. One day, a man entered my store and approached me. He smiled and stared at me, but I had no idea who he was. Finally he said, “Do you remember me?” I said no. “I’m the man you took to lunch!” I couldn’t believe it! He had obviously changed for the better. He had new clothes that he showed me, front and back. I couldn’t help but cry. He said he had a job at the church as their handyman and he was truly getting his life back together. We talked for a short while then he said he had to go. He then thanked me warmly, then turned and walked out, worked his way across the busy street and was gone.

I think of this man from Berwyn, Illinois from time to time. How he was once lost and now found again. We all get a little lost from time to time. When it strikes, we all question our faith and beliefs.

May our faith and family be strong enough to overcome any adversity.

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