Walking down the streets of La Puente on a Sunday night, I ran into a homeless man with a sign that said, “It costs one dollar to slap me… two dollars to punch me.”
Whenever I stumble across homeless people, part of me feels uncomfortable and the other part of me feels empathetic.
Why? Well, let’s redefine the word homeless: It’s someone who does not have a home — that’s a given.
But, when I think about homelessness, thoughts of fear, abandonment, hurt, loneliness and escape come to mind.
It may be due to personal or emotional struggles but generally, there is always a reason we feel homeless.
Granted, I can physically have a home, but I can still feel homeless, or better yet, frightened, lonely and unprotected. There is some sort of connection there, even if it isn't distinct.
I’ve seen numerous homeless signs, but none caught my attention more than this one. If I had to guess, this guy was in his mid-50s.
He had on a ripped shirt with baggy jeans and a black beanie. His face looked numb and perfectly emotionless.
The sign he was holding left such a powerful impact on me. What if someone takes him up on his offer? What if someone already did? Why does part of me feel helpless and guilty? I had to do something, but what could I do?
Normally, if I see any homeless person, I communicate with him or her and offer food. With this man in particular, I had to do something else.
I couldn’t just leave knowing that he might get hurt or possibly killed. What concerned me even more was that he was willing to put his life at risk.
The only thing I could think of that might encourage him to give up his sign was to either buy his sign or give him a sign that was more effective.
The first thing that I asked him was, “What is your name”? He muttered, “Martin.” I could not buy his sign because I had no cash on me. What could I do?
Willie Baronet, one of my inspirations, gave me perspective after he spent countless days buying signs off of the homeless and creating a masterpiece of art with his collection of signs.
Instead of buying the sign like he did, I figured I would replace it with a new one, something that had a powerful impact, but a more optimistic message.
Fortunately, I had cardboard boxes in my car since I am moving out of my apartment.
I emptied one of my boxes, found a marker, and made a sign that said, “Homeless... but not hopeless! Smile — it’s beautiful and free :)”
I gave him the sign and some snacks I found in my car. He just looked at me and paused. He then started tearing up, and said, "God bless you.”
During that moment, I realized that a person living on the street, who may usually be deemed powerless, could actually have influence over the world around him or her.
The initial sign he held up could provoke violence against him or maybe, make people perceive the world negatively. A small gesture of hopefulness made such a profound impact.
I believe that just like many others who are homeless, Martin felt hurt, lost, defeated and invisible. The thing is, whether you believe it or not, we have all experienced being "homeless."
We have all felt some sort of pain throughout our lives that skewed our perspective, making us want to physically hurt ourselves or put our lives at risk.
There have been countless instances where people have inflicted pain upon themselves due to their life struggles.
There are an infinite number of paths in life. If that one particular path takes a wrong turn, you can always find a crossroad that puts you back to where you want to go.
It's so easy to get lost in life, to see the world in a pessimistic light, forget where you are going, what you want or who you are, but it is equally as simple to get back on the right track. Sometimes, you just need some guidance.
Just remember even though we have all been "homeless," let's not be hopeless, because the cost of living life is priceless.