Today I met Danielle, a true story.
While walking to the hardware store today I met Danielle, I walked past her at first barely noticing her but about 20 meters after I had passed her by I did a double take and stopped in my tracks. Sitting on the path outside a shopping center in the middle of the day was a young woman with a paper coffee cup in front of her asking passers-by in a shy apologetic voice for spare change.
I walked back to her and said hello, she looked at me and asked me again if I could spare some change. I said no but I will buy you lunch in the cafe around the corner. She gratefully accepted my offer and we walked the few steps there. We got a table and I told her she could order anything. She chose a BLT and a coffee and we set about talking.
I asked her where she was from and she told me she was from a city in the south of the country, I asked her how she ended up sitting on the path begging for money and she told me her story.
Danielle, 23 grew up the only daughter of a single mother who herself was an only child. Her father had disappeared off the scene when she was very young and he now had a new family in another country. She hadn’t spoken to him for four years. One year ago her mother aged 46 died suddenly from a heart attack. She had spent her whole life working several jobs to provide a home for Danielle and a life for both of them. Danielle had completed some third level education and wanted to work as a Carer in a senior residential care home as she was very close to her grandmother growing up.
After her mother died Danielle was lost, the council assisted house, where they lived, was taken away and with no family left in her city, she felt the need to escape. She met a guy and moved with him to the city where she was now stranded.
Unfortunately, it seems this guy wasn’t the best guy to meet, he was unemployed and lived off state benefit. She moved in with him, was dependent on him and six months into the relationship he decided she had changed and he ended it and kicked her out of his place. Embarrassed, now homeless and ashamed to return to her home city which felt empty now her mother was gone Danielle moved onto the streets.
She told me she got by every day by begging for enough money to get hostel accommodation and food, she washed her hair with dry shampoo so it didn’t look too greasy and she even found enough nail polish to paint one hand. She told me how she slept some nights in the nearby Parking Garage and how people sometimes abused her for begging. She told me how she pulled her hoodie over her head and slipped into a daze to forget about her situation. She told me of the six-year-old girl who, half an hour before I met her had given her a bar of chocolate.
I asked her if maybe now would be the time for her to return to her city where although she had no family, she did have friends of her mothers in her neighborhood who she was sure would give her a safe bed until she got back on her feet.
Obviously returning home and asking for help from her childhood community is not an easy thing. We agreed though it might be easier than sleeping rough on the unfriendly streets in a strange city for the next year and risking injury or death.
I offered to put her on a bus back to her city. She agreed. I urged her when she got there to seek out her mothers’ friends and tell them she needed help. She agreed.
On the walk to the bus station, she told me she was feeling sick with nerves but also feeling excited.
When we arrived there we queued for the bus and before she was about to board she told me she was just feeling excited.
I gave her all the cash I had in my wallet, about €80 and hugged her and wished her well. As she boarded she mouthed the words thank you.
I felt happy to have been able to help someone but even happier that it looked like she might have a chance to turn her life around and get back on track.
As I walked to the hardware store past the spot where Danielle had been sitting there was a new girl. Can you spare some change she asked as I walked by without making eye contact.