I met Rose and Homer on the streets of downtown Indianapolis on June 21 while searching for a restaurant for breakfast. I wanted something cheaper than the $20 Omni restaurant’s breakfast buffet, and I’d done Starbucks the day before.
I asked a valet where a certain restaurant recommended by the Omni was (it was supposedly famous for omelettes), and he gave me directions. I’m still not sure whether he told me to turn right or left. (I kind of glaze over when people give me verbal directions.) Anyway, I traipsed up and down Illinois Avenue. The valet told me to turn left after the skybridge, which I did. Turns out there are quite a few skybridges on Illinois Ave., so I should’ve clarified which one.
The first skybridge was at Maryland Avenue (the valet had told me to turn on Washington Avenue), so I kept going. I saw a huge skybridge up ahead but could not find a street sign, and the name of the street was not emblazoned on the brick sidewalk. I turned around and walked in the opposite direction. I passed a Steak ‘n Shake, looked inside and saw all the people waiting (a Nazarene General Assembly was in town), and kept going.
I passed by the Omni, the Crowne Plaza Hotel (and skybridge to Union Station) where I’d attended a copywriting seminar for 2 days, saw a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk, and kept going until I came to the first street. It didn’t look like I was in a place where a restaurant would be, so I turned around and went back in the direction I’d first walked.
I passed by Steak ‘n Shake once again, and it was still crowded. So I kept going and once again came to the intersection where the huge skybridge was. A woman sitting beside a newspaper dispenser asked if she could help me. I looked at her and could tell she was homeless — she was wearing lots of clothes (warmer than the weather called for), her hair was greasy, and she was holding a cardboard sign (I’m not even sure what it said…maybe “Please help.”). She smiled and asked if she could help me. I asked what the cross street was. She said, “Washington Avenue.” I thanked her and proceeded down Washington Avenue, where the restaurant was supposed to be, just past yet another skybridge, according to the valet. By this time my feet were tired, as I was not wearing my walking shoes, so I looked down the street, thought, “Hey, that skybridge is too far away, and I really don’t care by now what I eat,” and returned to Illinois Avenue. I crossed the street after noticing a Panera sign, went in there, and ordered a breakfast sandwich, orange juice, and coffee. While I was sitting there munching on my overpriced breakfast sandwich and beverages, the thought occurred to me (God’s whisper, I think): “Hey, you really should take that woman to breakfast at Steak ‘n Shake.”
I felt really bad that I had bypassed that woman in the first place. So I scurried out of Panera, practically ran across the street…and saw a woman engaged in conversation with the homeless woman I’d passed by. I approached them and saw a homeless man joining them…I hadn’t noticed him before. I said, “Oh, hi…I wanted to take you to breakfast,” speaking to the homeless woman. But the other woman had beaten me to it. She had already invited the homeless woman and her companion to eat with her. She said to me, “You’re welcome to come along with us.” She introduced herself as Denise from Canada and then introduced Rose and Homer. I introduced myself.
The four of us went to Steak ‘n Shake. By now the crowd had died down, and we didn’t have to wait but a minute or two to be seated. We sat at a 4-top, and the waitress was friendly. She recognized Rose; I’m not sure whether she recognized Homer. Denise wanted to pay for everyone’s breakfast, but I insisted on taking Rose’s check and mine. We all chatted as waited for our breakfast to arrive. (Yes, I ordered a full breakfast after my mini-Panera one.)
We talked about where we all were from. (I don’t remember exactly where Rose said she was from. All I remember is that she said she has bipolar disorder, and somewhere during the conversation we discovered that she has two daughters, age 5 and about 2, and she said they were living with a Christian family.
Homer said he was from Kentucky. True to his Southern roots, he ordered biscuits and gravy. Denise ordered eggs and hashbrown medallions. I ordered eggs and shredded hashbrowns. Rose ordered the hearty breakfast with eggs, potatoes, and onions in a casserole-type concoction.
Denise asked them gently, “Is there anywhere for you to stay, like a shelter?” I asked about whether they could go to the Salvation Army or another homeless shelter. Rose replied, “We want to stay together. We love each other,” and she smiled at Homer. I asked if there wasn’t a family shelter where they could stay, and evidently there isn’t.
Rose said that someone had paid for them to stay at the nearby Westin Hotel for an evening, and that was really nice because they had a place to shower. She said the Westin was nice to them and let them sleep on the benches outside their building. (They use cardboard for mattresses.) I looked at Homer and said, “That’s pretty tough on your back, isn’t it?” He is 68 years old, and he nodded. Rose is 37.
A discussion ensued about social services for the homeless. Denise mentioned that in Canada the homeless have access to places to live, food, medical care, and she remarked that hospitals across the country are of about equal quality (she said the medical care there is excellent, contrary to many reports we hear in the USA). She lives in Brampton, between London and Toronto, Ontario (a road my family has traveled).
I said, “You guys pay pretty high taxes, don’t you?” Denise looked at me with a knowing smile, and then she said, “Well, yes … but we (Canadians) think differently from you Americans. We have great roads, medical care for all, and good social services. Plus, we don’t have this pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality.” Hmmmm… food for thought.
As we waited for our meal, Rose and Homer (mostly Rose; Homer is a man of few words) talked about how life is a struggle for them. They anxiously await Rose’s Social Security disability check each month, which is sent to a credit card. She and Homer have been together for 4 months. They don’t own anything other than the clothes on their back, a small blanket (which Rose tucked under the newspaper dispenser and said she hoped it was still there when they got back), and well-worn wallets. Homer is on medication for acid reflux and high blood pressure. Rose is anemic and hypoglycemic (kind of a tough combination for someone who does not have predictable mealtimes or access to fresh vegetables when the SS disability check dwindles).
Denise was appalled by their tale, and so was I. I asked if Indianapolis has a street paper that homeless people can buy for a cheap price (like a quarter) and sell for a profit. (Nashville has The Contributor; their vendors pay 25 cents a copy and sell the papers for $1.00.) Rose and Homer didn’t seem to know the answer to that.
Denise was much more up-front about her Christianity and the reason she was taking Homer and Rose to breakfast. She mentioned that Jesus commanded us to care for one another, to love one another, and that Homer and Rose had the “stamp of God” on them…that they are children of God and God loves them.
I sat quietly and listened as she talked. When she went to the bathroom, I asked Homer and Rose, “So…how many times have you been testified to/preached at lately?” I thought Homer was going to snort coffee through his nose. I told them I believed that they are God’s children and carry the “stamp of God,” only I call it the “image of God.” I said I agreed with what Denise said.
When the meals arrived and we had all eaten a bit, Denise said to Homer, “This may be a little rude, but would you mind if I tasted your biscuits and gravy?” (I was surprised at this. I’ve never asked to eat after a homeless person, though I have sat across the table from several of them.)
We finished our meal, and Denise and I paid for two meals each. Denise had to leave because she was late for a meeting. Rose asked for my phone number. I talked to her and Homer a bit longer, and I gave her my business card. She said, “I’ll call you sometime and let you know how we’re doing.”
I hope to hear from her. Here’s a prayer for all the Roses and Homers out there:
Dear God, please be with the Roses and Homers of the world. Help them to encounter friendly faces and compassionate hearts.
God, remind me each day that we humans are much the same — everyone needs love. Help me to love and work for justice for my fellow human beings.
O God, help Rose and Homer to know that you love them and will take care of them. Help me and other Christians to feel our responsibility to help the less fortunate. Help our government to never forget its responsibility to help the poor.
I pray that you will change the mindset of many Americans from “This money is mine, and I worked hard for it” to “God, this money is yours, and I am just a steward of all that I earn.” Or at least change it to, “Help me appreciate the blessings I have, and give me the grace to share with others.”
God, remind me that I can always share with others, even if it’s only a little bit of my time, a few dollars, or a meal.
Bless Homer and Rose in their journey. I pray that things will get better for them.
Thank you, caring God. Amen.