Money or Milk?

It was early in the morning; a cold dark morning in the middle of March; one that made you want to climb back into bed and cover yourself in warm, down blankets. My mother and I had just pulled off the freeway headed for downtown and inevitably, the work day that would soon begin. That was when I saw him, lying on the sidewalk in front of a brick building next to the main road, a heap of rags and sunken skin. I quietly studied him as my mother turned to me and asked if I could turn off the heater. I quietly complied and turned the air flow dial to low, still staring at this man lying in the middle of the ice cold sidewalk, fast asleep.

I continued driving in silence towards work but couldn’t shake the image of the sleeping man on the side of the road. As we passed a large park I saw similar piles. Beanie topped heads were poking out from under heaps of blankets and coats. Other belongings were scattered across the frosty grass, a few others were awake tending to their backpacks or bikes, undoubtedly the only possessions they owned. I still didn’t say much as we continued on to work. I dropped my mother off and started toward my own office when a bit of traffic held me up. I was stopped at one too many traffic lights and found myself a few minutes behind schedule. Finally parked, I hurried across the street to clock in when a homeless man rushed towards me with his hand out asking for attention.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash to give you,” I apologized, still rushing towards the entrance to my work. “I wasn’t asking for money,” he barked too harshly at my turned back. “Just a bottle of milk from the gas station on the corner or some-”

I turned around and gestured to the door and said, “I’m already running late.” He glared at me with dark, angry and empty eyes, huffed and stormed away muttering obscenities at his shoes which I know were meant for me.

I walked into work that day a little angry and offended from this encounter and thought what did I do to deserve his harsh words? I tried to convince myself that I, unlike him, was running late for a job that would provide. Why didn’t he have one or at least make an effort to get one? Instead of begging me for a handout. But the reality is, I was in a position to help and I didn’t. I could have stopped, but I didn’t.

Unfortunately, this is a reality we here in Salt Lake are all too familiar with. 16.2% of Salt Lake citizens are living in some form of poverty, as stated by Matt Canham of the Salt Lake Tribune in his article entitled, “The Utah Effect: Segregation among Salt Lake City’s Poor.” 16.2% might not seem like a lot but we have all seen the effects of that percentage. The hunched backs of the ones living with nothing, the empty eyes of the poor wishing for a warm cooked meal. Sometimes it isn’t as obvious as a cardboard sign by the freeway. Sometimes it’s a neighbor, straining to smiling under the pressure of near bankruptcy, or even a friend struggling to make ends meet. It isn’t always easy to see the needs of others but when we do and we’re in a position to help, I believe we should. Maybe it’s time to climb out of our cushioned, heated cars, step out of our comfort zones and help the ones sleeping in the middle of the cold hard ground.