Tonight I met David as I emerged above ground from the 145 street ABCD subway stop in Harlem. As I walked up the stairs, I ignored, or at least tried to ignore, the pleading cries of a man in his mid 30s who was sitting on the top step, “Lord God, help me, please I'm hungry, I'm homeless. Oh God, help me please, I need food...” I made it past without making eye contact. But I didn't get far.

I have recently established a firm policy of not giving cash to beggars and homeless folk. I spent years always giving at least a dollar or whatever change I had in my wallet out of good charity and, what I perceived as sincere love. But one day, a friend challenged me, “did Jesus hand out money to people?” He made the point that in our culture we have ascribed an objectively “good” quality to money. Meaning, because money has value, it carries an inherent positive force that helps people and is, therefore, deemed a charitable, “good” gift in all situations. But maybe that's not the case. Perhaps money's benevolence is subject to the way it is used, spent and treated. Hard as it is for me, a middle-class American young adult to grasp, perhaps money can't solve, fix or even help some situations. I realized that, in David's case and the case of so many others, an expression of love couldn't come from dollar bills and dirty coins.

After walking less than half a block, I turned around and approached the man at the top of the steps. I asked if he was hungry. He said he wanted some meat, which I neither had with me nor back home, but I told him I live right around the corner and would find something to bring him. In my apartment I grabbed a large chunk of bread I had bought at the Dominican bakery down the street, a banana and a chocolate cookie. After bagging the items, I went down the stairs and onto the street. I found David in the same location, devouring a small chicken wrap someone had graciously left him. He was delighted to see the food in my hands and wished God's blessing over me as I told him what I retrieved. I asked him his name, “David,” he said. Then he told me he's staying at the shelter down on 125 street. When asked if he was having a rough day, he told me he's having a rough life. Living in a homeless shelter is tough he said. The people are not very nice there and a lot of ex-convicts come stay there. Two weeks ago, a couple of guys recently released from jail stole all of his stuff and raped him at the shelter. He said he didn't get anything back and the folks he recounted the incident to told him he deserved it. When I asked farther questions, he said he doesn't like talking about it.

I don't know what David did to antagonize the ex-convicts, but I do know David did not deserve what happened. He said he has no family, because both of his parents have died and he was an only child. The world is broken and cruel, but no one deserves that kind of life, while millions of us are happy, wealthy and loved. Situations and circumstances like David's are incredibly complex and cloudy. So many different factors caused, continue to feed and will sustain the harsh reality these individuals face every day. But when I talked to David, and whenever I talk to beautiful people like him, I'm deeply challenged and moved. Although I don't have many solutions on how to “fix” their situation and how people like me can truly love those in his shoes, I know the first step requires talking to them. For me, that meant taking seven minutes out of my day, collecting 75 cents worth of food in my apartment and asking someone his name. For others, maybe it means giving away money, and that's fine to. I'm just going to try and look at those individuals in the eye from now on and treat them like more than a Salvation Army tin. Tonight, I'm praying for David, because there's a pretty good chance no one else is. And for now, that's the least I can do.

By: Timothy Meinch

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