Wednesday, March 9, 2022

My Homeless Friend, Drew

*This blog is usually dedicated to all things motherhood, relationships, and love, but today I wanted to share a special interaction I had with my new friend, Drew.

Having lived in major metropolitan cities such as New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, I’m no stranger to homelessness. 

Over the years, I have gotten to know a few individuals on a more personal level. Some I knew by name and others where familiar only because of the regularity we crossed paths with one another throughout the city. For example, Mikey greeted me with a smile that brightened my mornings as I commuted to work on some brutally cold winter days or the gentleman who looked like Santa Claus and religiously sat outside of the Pour House on Commonwealth Avenue begging for change. The one time I offered him my leftovers, rather than spare change, he promptly threw them into the trash as soon as he thought my back was turned. 

These men would cross my mind from time to time; wondering whether they were still homeless or where they might be. I always hoped they found the support they needed to be safe and healthy. 

On a few occasions Braden and I have volunteered with organizations that collect clothes and toys and we distributed them to the homeless on Skidrow. Many were women and children, which was always harder to bare. 

There have been a few Christmas’ where we packed brown bag lunches and delivered them to the homeless around the neighborhoods of Los Angeles. 

I remember them, but never expect to be remembered in return. I know my gestures are small in comparison to the help they need to survive or get themselves off the streets. 

This week I met Drew. He was seated at a table in the back corner of Starbucks. His bags were neatly lined up on the windowsill, his clothes were clean and tidy, he wore a hoodie over his head, his arms were crossed on the table, and his eyes gazed downward. 

It was early, Starbucks barely buzzing. I wanted to approach and offer him a warm cup of coffee or bite to eat, but I wasn’t sure if he was looking for a handout. I watched for a minute and then walked over to introduce myself, “Excuse me,” I started, respectfully inching a little closer until we made eye contact. I smiled, “Good morning. I hope I’m not offending you, but may I buy you breakfast?” He pulled back his hoodie and timidly smiled at me. “Yes, please. I would like that.” “Terrific, I replied. “What can I order for you?” “Sausage, eggs and cheese biscuit, please”, he said. “And a cup of coffee?”, I offered. “No, thank you, but a cup of ice water would be nice.” “You got it. I’ll be right back.” 

When I returned carrying both of our orders, Drew stood and had a look of relief on his face. For a moment, I think he may not have been sure I would come back. He couldn’t see the register from where he sat and the order took a while. “I’m sorry that took so long”, I was quick to say to reassure him. “Oh, that’s ok”, he replied, his smile growing bigger. “Thank you. Would you like to sit with me for a few minutes?” “Sure!”, I said without hesitation. Something about Drew felt warm and friendly. 

He eagerly pulled out a chair for me and for the next 45 minutes I learned about Drew’s family, all the places he lived and traveled to, friends from his past, his work, books he’s read and artists he admired. Drew was well educated, articulate, and engaging. He was soft spoken, polite, and charming. 

Drew quoted some of his favorite authors and shared some fascinating stories from his past. He had so much he wanted to share with me that it felt as if he couldn’t talk fast enough. Or maybe he wasn’t sure how long our interaction would last so he wanted to make the most of every minute. For almost an hour, Drew was not a homeless man, he was just a guy having breakfast with a new friend. 

I found myself drawn to Drew, curious to know the circumstances that brought him here, yet not wanting to ask because I hoped he could forget, even for a moment. 

When it was time for me to go, Drew said, “Most people would say, ‘I’ll never forget your kindness’, but I want to tell you that I will always remember . . . I will always remember you and the impact you made on me today.”

“I will always remember . . .” How deeply that resonated with me. 

“Maybe I’ll run into you again before I leave”, I told him. “I would love that”, he said with a smile. I stood to leave and slid a gift card across the table so I was sure Drew could get at least one more meal today. 

The following morning, I peaked into the Starbucks and I could see Drew was seated in the same corner table. I wondered if this was his regular morning routine or did he come back in hopes of running into me again?

On this morning he wasn’t wearing his hoodie, but I came in from another entrance so he didn’t see me approaching. “Excuse me, Drew! Good morning!” He turned and smiled, “Hi!”

“May I get you something to eat?”, I asked, but I could see he was already eating a bag of Cheetos and drinking a Coke.” “No, thank you. I ate.”, he meekishly stated pointing to his bag of chips, “But do you have time to sit for a minute?” “Sure!”, I said. 

Today I found the courage to ask how he got here. “Depression,” he said. “I don’t identify as being homeless, but I am. It’s temporary.” We talked more about what it’s like to live on the streets, especially as an older gentleman like himself; the discrimination, violence, and crime. He shared the resources that were available to him and the skills he learned to help him stay safe. 

I began to think about how quickly any of our lives can change in a blink of an eye. While I’m sure there is more to Drew’s story that I didn’t have time to learn, here is a seemingly well educated man with a fascinating career, family, friends and loved ones who finds himself homeless. What separates me from Drew and how does Drew bounce back from here? Is he destined to spend the rest of his life on the streets? He didn’t seem to think so, but what options does he have to get back on his feet?

Thank you for allowing me to join you for breakfast, Drew. You touched me in a way I will always remember and never forget.

*If you find yourself in the Charleston area, please stop by and say, "Hi" to Drew for me. He sits at the Starbucks in the Francis Marion Hotel at 378 King St., Charleston, SC.