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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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One of those days

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Posted by pam on January 14, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Originally published August 18, 2006

This column is reprinted with permission from The Hills Newspapers.

It was one of those days.  Like when heavy traffic makes you late to work.  Or worse, the traffic is so heavy you are not only late to work but miss an important meeting.  Or worst of all, for some unknown reason traffic comes to a complete halt, and you not only miss an important meeting but the whole day.

There was not much traffic when I had one of those days recently.  Although driving my car, I was not headed to work or anywhere else I needed to be.  I was looking out my windshield on Pleasant Valley Road in Oakland when I saw a homeless man with nowhere else he needed to be and probably nowhere else to go.  For me, the day turned sour as I imagined his countless number of bad days far worse than any traffic jams.

On this particular day, my reaction to seeing a homeless person was different than usual.  Like most people who live in cities, I have grown accustomed to the homeless.  Unfortunately, the normal feelings of disbelief and compassion no longer come easily. Seeing another homeless person is like driving in another heavy morning commute.

Seeing this homeless man, however, affected me differently.  In part, it had to do with his location.  I spotted him in a comfortable residential area between the neighborhood shops on Piedmont Avenue and the local grocery store on Broadway.  This was not the urban setting that came to mind when thinking of the homeless.  With no city park or skyscraper in sight, he looked distinctly out of place.

Overall, this homeless man made a heart-wrenching sight.  He was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk surrounded by a meager collection of bulging plastic bags.  In looking at him, his most obvious needs were for things the rest of us take for granted like clean clothes, a haircut and shower.  Obviously, these were the least of his needs.

For the rest of the day, I could not stop thinking about him.  I considered approaching him and offering money.  Having also lived in cities like Washington, D.C. and New York City, I was accustomed to giving cash to people on the street.  However, he appeared to need so much more than a cash handout.

Although the man was gone when I returned, I had already decided to seek professional help.  When I saw him again several days later, I turned to my telephone directory.  In a matter of seconds, I found a government listing for Homeless-Hunger and Transitional Housing Programs in the city of Oakland.  In an even shorter amount of time, I was talking to a person in charge.

It turns out that someone else had one of those days too.  The people running the program were not only aware of this particular homeless man, but they had already attempted to help him. Their Homeless Mobile Outreach Program handles cases just like this one.  Unfortunately, the man’s mental health problems had interfered with their efforts.  They planned to continue to offer help and attempt to gain his trust.

It is uncertain whether this man’s bad days will be over any time soon.  Now that I know where to spot him, I am constantly on the look-out.  So far, I continue to see him in the same location on a regular basis.

Every time I see him, I am reminded that even my bad days are really good days.  With so many good days in my life, I still want more.  What I want, in particular, is this homeless man to receive the help he needs.  I could never have too many of those days.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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