Friday, February 18, 2005

Friends of Vincent

So you're walking down Race Street, and the fellow on the steam grate looks up at you. He's been sitting there all morning. It's about 26 degrees out. You have the feeling there should be icicles hanging from his beard. You're reasonably sure this guy has got some pretty bad habits, and he knows you're a soft touch for money: he can see it in your eyes--you look at him. You actually see him, see him as himself, as the person you might be yourself if things were a little different.

His name is Vincent. Everybody knows he's Vincent. He's made a point to tell us through the years. He's one of the few who's managed to hold out inspite of the crackdown on street people in Center City. Nobody wants to see homeless people, trashing up the streets.

Will you feed Vincent? Take him over to the cart and buy him a cup of joe, or a ham and egg sandwich? Will you give him a dollar and try not to think about where it's going? Will you give him a card with the phone number of a nearby community counselling center? Will you dig out the scrip the city is selling, something you can give to a homeless person which they can exchange at one of the area soup kitchens? Do you wish him well, say a silent prayer and keep on walking?

I know what the compassionate establishment line is on all of this: Give him the Scrip.

I know what my protective father's line has always been on all of this: Don't talk to strangers.

I know what my street-wise husband's line is on this: The guy's a hustler, that's his line of work. If he gets lucky with you, then that's one less half hour he needs to sit there, doing his job.

I know what my inner-teacher tells me: If a man asks you to walk one mile, walk with him two.

So I do something. Somedays I buy him the joe. Some days I just say hello. Some days I know it takes more out of me to turn away than it takes from him to ask, so I give him a dime or a quarter or a dollar, and I ask him to say a prayer for me.

Is it enough? You tell me.