Today’s post is about the homeless couple on the Azusa Ave exit off the 60W freeway, whom I have been chasing for over a month.
From our summer missions trip (Los Angeles Urban Project), our team had saved a lot of our living funds. We donated most, but we each took some back to see what good we could do with the money. So when it started getting cold, I spent my $30 on 2 sweaters to give to the homeless couple at the freeway exit.
Finding this homeless couple was surprisingly difficult. Sometimes I saw them from a distance as I entered the freeway, but they were gone when I got back home. I could have given the sweaters to other homeless dudes, but I wanted to wait for my homeless couple because I had picked these out specifically for them.
One day while driving, I spotted them walking antiparallel to my direction! Then it was like an adrenaline-pumping-action-packed-high-speed chase scene, where I maneuvered through rush hour traffic on Azusa Ave, met a No U-turn sign, so went around and through Wal Mart, and turned into the Puente Hills Mall, hoping to catch them. But egad! They had crossed the street to the other side of Azusa Ave, and mysteriously disappeared by the time I got there. It sure felt like an adrenaline-pumping-action-packed-high-speed chase, but it was probably more like adrenaline-pumping-but-rush-hour-traffic-very-low-speed chase by a strange Asian man pulling a one-man show.
That night I thought about why the heck it was so difficult to give to the poor.
1) I had to fight my reluctance to approach the homeless. Often, I didn’t want to reroute my errands to drive by the freeway. And if I didn’t already have somewhere to go, I didn’t want to get out of the house just to chase strangers.
2) I couldn’t catch them because I was in my car. Theoretically, with a car I should have been able to chase them down quickly, but I was caught in the world’s flow of traffic and I couldn’t get to them fast enough. Privilege can hinder me from approaching the poor.
Yesterday I saw the homeless couple walking antiparallel to my traffic, like a replay of last time. But this time I knew to drive on the rightmost lane, so I could enter the mall parking lot directly (past Joe’s Crab Shack). I parked faster than I’ve ever parked before, took the sweaters out of the trunk, and pursued this homeless couple like nobody had probably done in a long time.
As I was finally approaching them, a surge of inertia came back. What if they’re not the homeless couple? What if they don’t want my sweaters but just want money? What if they’re rude or think I’m weird? What do I even say? I almost even turned back, but I kept on walking past my self-imposed resistances.
I very awkwardly asked if they were the couple from the freeway exit. Of course they were. I offered them sweaters, which they were very grateful for. Apparently, they live at Schabarum Park, and it’s really cold at night. Their names were Elizabeth and Eric. They’ve been homeless for a year after Eric lost his job. Elizabeth said “it’s not the worst thing in the world,” which was hard for me to understand. Eric once upon a time graduated from Walnut High School, and Elizabeth from La Puente High School.
By the end of our 5-min interaction, they no longer felt like strangers. They live a mile from my house, and went to high school where my friends did. By all possible definitions, they were my neighbors, whom Jesus said to love as myself. If my high school classmates became homeless, would I recognize them as friends, or ignore their existence?
I learned that despite the prevalence of poverty, I can’t expect the poor to be needy according to my conveniences. I can’t expect them to be waiting for the most convenient time for me to give out sweaters while I’m conveniently driving to Wal Mart, with a few minutes I can conveniently spare.
It was just a 5-min conversation, but I had been chasing them for over a month, and the plan was actually begun in August. Chasing after the poor takes a lot of time and effort, and that’s to be expected.
Please know I’m not boasting about my charitable deeds. I just want people to actively fight against life’s inconveniences to pursue the poor and needy, because that’s when you realize that strangers are in fact your neighbors.
P.S. If you see Elizabeth and Eric, please say hello and maybe even give them something. Call them by their names, let them know that you’ve heard about them, and that you wish the best for them.