Letting a Homeless Person Sleep on my Couch
I let a stranger sleep in my living room
By Rob Cockerham |
I let a stranger sleep on my couch.
I was driving home, super late at night, almost 3am, sober, and I spotted a woman walking west who looked like she was in trouble.
She was in front of the florist at Arden and Bell, walking alone. She looked cold and desperate, trying to cover her arms with her hands.
I pulled over and asked her if she needed a coat. She said yes.
I pulled into the parking lot to check my trunk. In the winter I carry an extra coat, but it wasn't there. I couldn't help her.
There were two young men on BMX bikes eyeing us, riding in slow circles nearby.
"I am sorry, I thought I had an extra jacket back here. I am going to go home to grab you one. I will be right back."
"Oh, thank you... but.... can I come with you?" She asked.
"Uh.... sure." I replied.
"Oh my God, thank you. I just have two bags on the side of this building. Can we go over and get them?"
She sat in the front seat and we turned right to get to the rear of the building. Her two shoulder bags were tucked into a corner alcove. I threw them into the trunk and we headed to my house.
We went to Jack in the Box on the way, but she would end up being too exhausted to eat more than a bite. She stashed the burger in my fridge.
Spoiler Alert! She doesn't kill me and steal everything out of the house.
Yes, I was worried that this act of kindness would backfire and something would go wrong and everyone would make fun of me.
Are my tools going to be stolen?
Is my car going to be stolen?
What if she refuses to leave?
What if she leaves in the middle of the night?
What if she leaves the door open?
What if she has lice or bedbugs or hepatitis?
What if she locks herself in the bathroom?
What if she never wakes up?
And I'm sure she worried about me.
What kind of psycho is this?
What if the landline is disconnected?
What does he want from me?
Am I going to end up locked in the basement?
I brought some blankets out to the couch and offered her some pajamas. She accepted. She laid down and was asleep within five minutes.
After hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, people were warned to stay out of the city. But the city needed help. There were a dozen helicopters picking people off of rooftops, but thousands of people were stuck without water, food, electricity or fuel. The city had collapsed into bedlam. Evacuees waited in vain at the convention center for help that never came. I remember hearing the story of three college kids that skipped school, drove around roadblocks and ventured into the city to help. They didn't wait for directions or permission. They refused to do nothing in the face of a staggering need.
I was inspired by their story. I crafted an operating principal for dire situations: Don't be afraid to lose your job or go to jail to save someone's life.
I retreated to my bedroom, swung the door almost shut and moved the laundry hamper in its path, so that I could hear if my visitor pushed the door open. I wasn't worried, but I went ahead and indulged myself in this bit of caution.
In the morning, my guest was awake and had finished her hamburger.
I made coffee.
She asked if she could wash her clothes, she took a long shower, she borrowed my phone to reach out to a couple of friends.
She was wearing simple shoes, thin flats, but needed some real shoes for walking. I helped her with some tennis shoes from the Rack.
I didn't want her to feel like she owed me anything, but I did ask her if she would sweep the back patio for me, because it is a task that I hate. She said "sure!" and did a great job, spending almost 30 minutes out there clearing webs, leaves and sawdust from around the tables and chairs out back.
I gave her a warm zip-up Lyft jacket, and a blanket. I did my best to equip her for her next night, which was probably going to be sleeping in the bushes.
She got word that her husband was looking for a spot in a mobile home park in Natomas, but she didn't have his exact location. I would have loved to see her through to a housing resolution, but it didn't happen. I drove her up to a shopping complex in Natomas and said goodbye. I helped for one night, and I hope my contributions help her stay warm until she finds a new roof.
There should be 20 ways to get poor people back on their feet. I don't know what they should be, but we need more paths open.
It felt good to do something.