There is More to His Story

When I was a writer in South Texas, one of my first assignments was to accompany Fort Worth students to cover the International Science Fair. Each day, with my laptop, slung over my shoulder, I walked to the convention center to observe and interact with the students to write about their reactions to being a part of an international event.

Walking by the park near the convention center, I noticed a homeless man lying on a bench. I couldn’t help but gaze longer than I should, and feel a need to sit down next to him and talk.

When I was a writer in South Texas, one of my first assignments was to accompany Fort Worth students to cover the International Science Fair. Each day, with my laptop, slung over my shoulder, I walked to the convention center to observe and interact with the students to write about their reactions to being a part of an international event....Like everyone else, I sometimes reject the idea that pain like this exists beyond the comforts of my home. I wanted to write a story about this homeless man, but I felt that it was a selfish reason to invade his privacy. And the truth is, I didn’t have the nerve to walk up to him and say the first word.

After a week of writing stories and following students around, I hesitated to take one of my final walks to the center. But then, there he was, with his dark gray coat, a plaid blanket wrapped around him, stringy hair, and a dirty, messy look leaning back on the bench.

I knew to be careful, but the park was open with people sitting all around. As I approached, I said hello, but received no response.

What could he possibly have to say to me? I asked him how he was doing, which was ridiculous, as I could see his situation. Finally, I decided to sit on the bench beside him even though the stench and flies surrounding him were near unbearable.

I asked him his name. He said it was Clifford. He said he had been living on the streets for 15 years. I told him I passed this way every day for a week and noticed he was always there.

My next question was careful because I understood it was intrusive. I asked the man why he lived on the streets instead of in a home with a family. He said he had no family. Even though he would not look at me, I knew he would talk to me, so I relaxed.

He told me that he worked for a factory in Ft. Worth. I forget the name. He said it closed down, and he lost his job. When he returned and told his wife, she left him, took his children, and lost everything.

“I’ve been here ever since,” he said. I wanted to know why he just quit. Families break up all the time. People lose their homes and jobs, but they don’t just quit.

I noticed the discoloration in his feet through his ragged shoes and asked to see his feet. He did, and I could see gangrene had set in. I suggested he go to the hospital, but I could see our conversation was over.

The only response I got after that was when I asked him what he would like me to buy him to eat. He told me he wanted Vienna sausages and coke, so I walked to the nearest store and bought him a bag full of what he requested, along with other things that I thought would help.

I told Clifford I was a writer and asked him if I write about our conversation. He glanced at my camera and said it was OK, but I could not take a picture.

The next day I came by the park with a bag of food, but Clifford was gone. The town had scheduled a Street Dance in the park, and a policeman told me they had taken him to a hospital.

When I came home, I turned in all my stories except the ones I couldn’t write. It was the story of a man who had lost hope. I told a friend about Clifford. He asked me why I didn’t write the story. My response was that there was no good ending. I could not impart words of wisdom due to the encounter.

But we know there are a lot of stories without happy endings. We can’t see the pain of those who feel hopeless in their heart.

There are many reasons people are homeless. Among them are the Lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, and (4) low wages.

Why do they sleep on the streets instead of going to shelters?

My son worked at a Homeless Shelter for years. He said, “Many homeless people have jobs. Because check-in hours for shelters are often rigid and waiting in line and checking in usually takes hours, many working poor cannot use them. Others work evening or night hours, which don’t allow them to get inside before curfew.”

Other reasons for not checking into shelters include lack of beds, privacy, fear of crowds, religious differences, the danger of theft, drug use and criminality, separation of family members, handicap accommodations, fear of contracting diseases, and fear of rape or assault.

I still wonder what happened to Clifford. I know we can’t fix all the pain we encounter every day. But why did he give up?

Life has taught me one thing for sure. Before we can help anyone, regardless of their age or what kind of pain they are facing in their lives, we have to be willing to listen.

It doesn’t matter if we have all the answers; everyone deserves the dignity of being heard.


Author's Image
Deana Landers
Author for Morningcoffeebeans.com

I have had many roles in life
Pastor’s Wife , Mom/Nana , Nurse/Health Educator, Writer , Christian Speaker
I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing stories, either in my head or in my journal.

[Read full bio]