“Spare change?” the man asks hopefully as I walk by him on King St. He raises the used coffee cup in his hand – in it is about a dollar in silver coins – and as my heart sinks with sadness for this stranger that God made in his image, I keep walking, pushing away the pangs of guilt that appear as soon as I avert my eyes and pretend I never heard his words.
I’m ashamed to admit the frequency with which this situation occurs. It twists my stomach into knots and leaves me confused about what I should be doing. Soon after the knots subside, I stop wondering and move on with my life, at least until the next homeless man asks me with a hopeful glance, “spare change?”
A homeless man died on Monday night. He made it into the news. Nameless and faceless, both literally and figuratively. News of his demise will be forgotten in the flurry of excitement over the royal baby’s birth. It seems to me that as we wrestle with the issue of refugees coming to Australia on boats, we should also be wrestling with ways to give those from our own shore refuge when they can find none.
This man should not have been on the streets when the temperature hit 8.7 degrees. He should not have been forced to seek refuge in a garage. He was a person with value, worth and a story that matters. Why do we so easily push these people aside? Why do we think it’s okay to ignore these people who literally sit at our feet as we walk passed them? Why am I so prone to apathy when my neighbours are struggling to find somewhere to sleep on a cold winter’s night?
Faceless and nameless. I cannot shake the words from my soul today. They are glued to my mind and I so desperately want to make them disappear. I do not like this discomfort. I do not like to be confronted with my own sinfulness in ignoring this man (is it sinfulness? I’m not sure. I think it is). He is faceless and nameless and yet…. God knows his name and he created his face.
“You wouldn’t want to let the homeless bum sleep in the hall, would you?” someone once said with a wry smile. “The old ladies in the knitting group might come in and see the washed up alcoholic laying there. That would upset them!” he laughed, and so did others in the group of people listening. We seem to have told ourselves their stories. We’ve convinced ourselves that to be homeless is to be a washed up alcoholic. We’ve villianised them so that our own guilt can be placated.
We take their names from them. We ignore their faces. We are guilty here. We are the guilty ones.
“Spare change?” someone will inevitably ask as I walk by. I wonder what would happen if I offered a cup of coffee and some bread, and asked them what their name was so I could pray for them as I sleep in my warm bed… so that I could pray that they too would find shelter and warmth and home. Perhaps I could hear their stories. Perhaps you could do. Perhaps, together, we can see the nameless and faceless find their place among us as equals, rather than strangers at our feet.
Update: my friend Rin wrote a post about her own experience – you should read it.