Earlier this year, on a cold January day, I met a homeless man named Chris.
He was standing in front of the state capitol building—working downtown, it was not unusual to run into a person in his situation.
What was unusual, however, was the cardboard sign he was holding. Sometimes people can be seen holding signs with messages written across them asking for food or monetary donations, but this sign was quite different.
Aside from its ginormous size, the message on the sign was unlike any other signs I have seen.
Intrigued, I stopped to get a closer look. It read:
Happiest homeless person has something to say,
So on your calendar, mark this day.
Swearin’ in the voter’s choice,
But we, too, the homeless, should have a voice.
The next 4 years, laws they’ll pass,
Mostly helpin’ the rich get richer, kickin’ my as_.
Gov’t funds for upscale apartments,
For the homeless, this doesn’t make any dents.
Tearin’ down houses, pushin’ us around,
How ‘bout a gov’t funded campground?
Even built a runway, callin’ it an incubator,
Doesn’t do common folk any good, just dressin’ rooms for an upper class masturbator.
Snyder, Bernero, Gillespie, and Eyde,
In four years, I’ll probably wish I’d died.
Make some laws for better jobs and wages,
That would be good to pass down thru the ages.
They say unemployment is down,
But employers are treatin’ us like a clown.
Part-time, min. wage, overexpectant, under appreciative bosses,
What we need is full-time, good pay, and respect; til then, I’ll take the losses.
So, freshman class of senators, I wish U luck,
Me, I’ll bend over, cuz that’s where I’ll get stuck.
After reading it, I introduced myself, and we talked about the sign and a bit about his situation. He told me he had been homeless for awhile, and he had been watching all of the new developments being built around town, while also witnessing families being denied shelter all winter.
I asked him how many people had stopped to read his sign, and he said I was the first person in several hours. Mind you, this was during lunchtime, in a very crowded area, with many people walking around at the time.
As sad as it made me, it wasn’t hard to believe. Despite the largeness of the sign, I saw no one else stop to read it during our chat.
Hoping to help spread his message, I asked him if I could take a picture and share it online, on my social media accounts. He responded to the idea with great enthusiasm.
Of course, that was back in January. All my online sharing did was spread his message to a few hundred more people and get some discussions going.
Meanwhile, the new upscale apartments went up, and the homeless shelters were left untouched.
Thousands of dollars continued to be donated to the pockets of local politicians, and my white collar colleagues continued walking past the homeless individuals they passed on their lunch breaks, without making eye contact.
In the words of one of my coworkers, “Such is life.”
Nonetheless, my conversation with Chris that day has never left my mind. Maybe that’s just how life is, but I still can’t help but wonder—why?
How did we get to this point where so many of us forget that we’re human—so much so, that we not only ignore the needs of the less fortunate, but we often demonize them and judge their situations?
Maybe you don’t like the idea of giving money to someone with a cardboard sign, but the next time you run into someone down on their luck, consider at least introducing yourself? Will you at least offer them five minutes of your time and learn about their situation?
Hold out your hand for a shake, and ask them their name, or ask them about their life—hell, ask them anything. Look that person in the eye, and talk to them like they are a human being.
Because they are.
These men and women deserve to have their voices heard. Just like you and me—they are Americans.
And you might be amazed by the things you learn.
Just because they may not be holding a huge sign, doesn’t mean they don’t have an important message to share.
Author: Stacey Johnston
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photos: Author’s own.