Showing Compassion Makes a Difference to the Homeless

The steps of the bank seems like a perfect place to sleep. Mark (not his real name) stretches across the concrete. His belongings, stuffed into a luggage cart and grocery bags, spill out around him. He snuggles under a blanket and adjusts his wool cap. The blanket, his fleece jacket, three sweaters and his long pants should keep him warm.

Twenty feet away an electronic billboard displays the time and temperature: It is 1 p.m. and 80 degrees.

Emily Powers (right), suggests making eye contact, saying “hi” and casually explaining that you are giving out sandwiches. Then ask if he or she would like one.

Emily Powers of Capitol Hill Group Ministry offers a sandwich to a homeless man in Washington.

Emily Powers, a fellow with Capitol Hill Group Ministry (CHGM), notices Mark as we walk through Washington’s Capitol Hill area on a Saturday afternoon in April. We offer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, socks and toiletries to the area’s homeless population as part of CHGM’s outreach program. Emily recognizes Mark as a CHGM client.

“Hi Mark,” she whispers. “Would you like a sandwich?” Mark opens his eyes and takes two sandwiches. He looks confused. He has water and will be fine, he tells us. And no, he isn’t too hot.

After a few minutes Powers and I leave Mark and head toward Union Station, an Amtrak and Metro stop about a mile away where other hungry people will appreciate a PBJ.

As we walk among the million-dollar homes and perfectly manicured lawns of Capitol Hill, Powers stops. Mark is still on her mind. She pulls out her cell phone and calls 911.

“I just want to make sure he’s OK,” she explains to the operator. We turn and walk back toward Mark, arriving just as the ambulance pulls up.

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The emergency medical technicians approach Mark gently. “You OK, buddy?” one asks. “Who is the vice president? What day is it? What date is it?”

Mark answers correctly. The EMTs leave, deciding that Mark is coherent. Two police officers arrive and suggest that Mark remove some of his clothing.

Mark is overwhelmed that someone cares enough to check on him. He thanks us over and over.

We leave to find him some water. When we return he has removed most of his cold-weather clothing. Powers gives him two bottles of water.

Mark thanks us again for caring as we turn to leave. “I love you,” he calls out to us.

Powers is used to love and hugs from the neighborhood homeless. “I pay attention to [injustice] more,” she says of her fellowship. “This year has taught me that I have to think about it actively.”

Photo: Jane Hess Collins

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