Sunday, November 8, 2009

Have a good day!

When Pastor Dan was attending seminary in Minneapolis, he and his young bride lived in an area that was also populated by a large number of homeless people. Like many people, he was ambivalent about how to deal with them, especially when they asked for money. On one occasion, he decided to give the person on the street a couple of dollars, and he and his wife continued on their way.

A block or so later, they decided that since it made THEM feel good to give the person some money, why not simply give the person their remaining $5?

So they did.

Throughout history, every society has always had a class of people that were considered “beggars”, and they were invariably looked down upon.

In America today, the group that comprises “the homeless” is a lot more complex than you might imagine. For starters, it is estimated that one out of four homeless people is a veteran of the Armed Services. By serving their country with honor, they did terrible damage to themselves:

is that any way to treat a vet?

Due to the skid in the economy, many people who previously had been living a “typical middle class lifestyle” were finding themselves unemployed, foreclosed, and scrounging for a place to live:

over 45 and out of luck

More often than you might think, the homeless person on the street may have talents that wouldn’t expect a “skid row bum” to have, as evidenced by the 2009 film, The Soloist.

Being out of work doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to be homeless. Canadian author Charles Long published a book titled “How to Survive Without a Salary” in 1988, and it’s had two subsequent releases.

Evanston, Illinois is one of the most educated cities in America, with 62% of the population holding bachelors or advanced degrees, considerably higher than the national average of 14%. 92% of the work force would be considered to be white collar workers.

Evanston is also home to at least two large group homes where a large number of mentally ill people reside. Seeing them shuffle down the street every morning as I walk to work, I invariably think of the classic 1968 film, “Night of the Living Dead”. Although none of them would be considered to be dangerous people, their mere presence on the streets of Evanston, and in the parks of Evanston, sometimes make people nervous:

who’s park is it, anyway?

By definition, a homeless person is someone who does not have a permanent mailing address of their own, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they sleep outdoors at night or in one of the homeless shelters that are scattered throughout the city.

I usually go to the local Jewel store 4 or 5 times a week to pick up a few items, and I often encounter one of the most cheerful people that I’ve ever met. Both entering and coming, he greets everyone with a big, genuine smile, and a wish “to have a good day”.

After hearing Pastor Dan’s sermon a few weeks ago, I decided that it would be interesting to interview “the man on the street”, and finally was able to do so on November 5.

His name is Terry, and he has lived in Evanston most of his life (after a brief stay in Detroit). If you’ve been to Jewel lately, this is what he looks like:

Although he was a licensed driver in his early years, he no longer likes to drive, and gets around town on a small bicycle that he borrows from a friend:

He was born on March 1, 1958, which means that he is 51 years old, but he looks to be far younger.

He attended Park Elementary school and Nichols middle school, and he graduated from Evanston Township High School.

After graduation, he attended both Barbizon Modeling School and Columbia college, but did not graduate from either.

He has had a variety of jobs in his lifetime:

restaurant worker, nursing home attendant, bank teller, case worker for the City of Evanston, mail room worker at Loyola University, telemarketing, and “Infrared Research”

The job at Infrared Research ended in 1993, and he has not held a permanent job since then.

He sold “Streetwise” for a couple of years, but the only publication that he sells now is “Chicago Jazz”

Some of his ancestors are full blooded Cherokees, but his ethnic makeup is only a small percentage “native American”

He lives with a friend, so doesn’t have to worry about sleeping in the elements. Believe it or not, he’s a hard working guy.

On the morning that I interviewed him, he had been at his station at Jewel since 7:30 that morning, and he often works until past 11 at night. He estimates that he spends about 25 hours a week greeting people as they come in to Jewel.

He was quick to point out that he is actually a “greeter”, not a panhandler, and there truly is a large difference between the two.

Years ago, he tried to get in to the military, but his poor vision kept him out.

I asked him why he was always so cheerful, and his response was there was enough sadness in the world, and he didn’t want to add to it.

I have no idea if he gets any money from the government, nor do I care, nor am I concerned with his familial relationships.

Just as Pastor Dan gained something by his encounter with the “homeless person” years ago in Minneapolis, I truly look forward to my frequent encounters with Terry at the Jewel Store.

“Have a good day”, he always says.

And to you too, Terry.

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