Working in Washington, DC is pretty fun. Besides the adventures one can have riding on the Metro, there are great restaurants, a mix of cultures, interesting events to attend, and, of course, a variety of happy hour spots.

However, not all people in DC, or in any major city for that matter, are able to enjoy these opportunities. Some do not even have access to the basic necessities of life. Every day, they have to figure out what they are going to do in order to survive. I have been fortunate enough that I have never had to ask myself, “how will I eat today?,” “what will I wear?” or “where can I sleep?” Instead, the question raised every time I encounter the homeless is, “how do we help?”

When people ask for money on the street, I am always faced with the dilemma: how will the money I give be spent? Will it feed an addiction, or help someone find food or shelter for a day? Or I think, why doesn’t he/she just go to a shelter or soup kitchen? I am ashamed to say that because of these questions, I do not always give money.

The reality is that we don’t really know the other person’s story or what he/she has been through. Instead, we work off of stereotypes and try not to think about the situation we’ve just walked around.

Today, I was walking back from picking up some copies I had made. On my way back to the office, I noticed a homeless man who often stands on the corner. He is always wearing a poncho, (he has different colored ones), and I’ve seen him in the summer and winter, burning sunshine and freezing rain. I’ve also heard him speaking with people before. In fact, one conversation I overheard was about college and going back to school. It made me wonder what his story was. All of this and I haven’t done anything to help him. Today, I actually shifted my wallet so that he wouldn’t see it and ask me for change. Pathetic.

One woman, however, did what I wished I could do. She was well-dressed in a tan suit with matching tan heels and had her hair done up. After I moved my wallet, I looked up and she was digging in her wallet for money. She handed him the money, smiled and, then, shocked me to the core. She reached her hand out, put it on his shoulder and leaned in toward his ear. From where I was, she could have kissed his cheek. If nothing else, she whispered something in his ear which will remain a secret between the two of them. She then smiled and walked away, looking even classier than when I first noticed her.

I reached the man a few paces later and he was putting the money away. He did not ask me for a thing.

© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.