The Homeless Hike

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”  He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”  Luke 3:10-11

A few weeks ago, my friend Sean, who I met through Project Homeless Connect, called me and asked if I would like to go with a small group on a Homeless Hike.  Once a month, his group treks along 5 miles of railroad track where many homeless people have set up camp sites to get off the streets.  The group backpacks the route with bags of food, water, and supplies like toilet paper and tooth paste.

I agreed and we met the group early one evening.  Most were in the late 20’s or early 30’s.  I was definitely the oldest in the group as I realized that my backpacking days had ended close to 40 years ago.  I was impressed with the group, a female doctor, and young male second year resident, a few social service workers who work with the homeless every day, along with a former co-worker Tina, Sean and me.

As we walked though woods, weed, and briars, up and down banks to get to these sites, you can’t help but reflect.  What causes homelessness?

In my experience drugs, alcohol, mental illness, unemployment, broken homes, domestic violence are the causes.  Homelessness is the effect of these problems.  We can’t cure homelessness unless we deal with these real issues.

One person we visited that night has a skin disease, and after the doctor examined him, she was able to get him scheduled for needed treatment at the hospital the next day.

“Have you seen a doctor about your skin problem?” I heard her ask.  “Yes”, he replied, “but I was with the doctor two minutes and he sent me a bill for three hundred dollars! I can’t afford three hundred dollars.”

The young doctor assured him that she became a doctor to help people and she wouldn’t send him a bill, although it took her several minutes of convincing before he finally trusted her.

We visited many camp sites that night, some abandoned, some in use with no one there, and still others that were the temporary home for some, at least until the police or the railroad ran them off the property.

Near the end of our hike, we walked along a pair of railroad tracks heading back to where we had parked our cars. Walking toward us, on the same track, was a young man walking his bicycle.  When he spotted us he switches over to the other track, as if he was scared that we might be with the railroad.

As he neared us, he stopped for a moment and then yelled over, “Hi Tony!” as he made his way closer to our group.  As he got closer I recognized him as a young man who I had met three years earlier at a downtown shelter, a place where the homeless can get a Friday night meal.

“Hey Tom, do you need any food or water?” I asked. “No, I’m good,” was his reply.  “Are you sure, this pack is getting heavy on my back and I’d appreciate lightening the load,” I returned in a joking manner.

He paused for a moment, and then said, “There IS someone else who could use your help further down the tracks.  His site is really hidden but I can take you to him.”  “Sure,” I replied, “let’s go.”

As we made our way through the weeds and brush, we can upon his camp site.  “Hey, Mike.  Come on out these are my friends, you can trust them.” as Tom pointed to the group.  We talked with Mike, the doctors examined him and we left him some food and water.

“Is there anyone else nearby we can help? I asked Tom.  “Yes, there is a woman and her dog living just over the hill, but she’s not here now.”

“If I give you some food and water, will you deliver it to her?” I asked.  “I sure will, and Tony, I promise that she will get everything you give, I won’t take anything for myself.”

“I know you will, Tom, because I trust you”, I said quietly. “Why do you trust me, when most people don’t?” Tom asked quizzing.

“Because three years ago, when I met you at the shelter, I asked you if you needed anything and you said you only needed a roll of toilet paper. I gave you two. Quietly, you gave one of the rolls back and said give it to someone else who needs it.  Your selflessness made an impression on me Tom, and I am proud to be your friend.

He smiled a friendly smile and waved as we made our way further down the railroad tracks as the sun began to set.

It’s funny about trust.  When the man with the skin disease realized that the doctor was not there to make money but to help him, he allowed her to examine him and was very grateful she did.  And because of Tom’s unselfish gesture three years earlier with a roll of toilet paper, I trusted him.

I guess it is true; no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

To get Tony’s latest posts delivered to your email every week, simply subscribe by  clicking here.