What’s The Difference Between You and J?

This is where I met J.

This is where I met J.

As I hugged him, I could see he was crying.  He kept saying, “Man, I’m so tired.  I’m really just so tired…I just want to rest.”

All I could think of to say was, “I know.  It’s ok.  I know.

But really, I’m lying. I have no idea.

And so do very few of the people passing us on either side, as they make their way to and fro within the Target parking lot.  For a brief moment, I forget about them, and what they might be thinking, as I just let this man cry.

In an hour and a half, this 44-year old man I’ll call “J” shared his story with me.  Of how little by little, he crept closer and closer to the streets, until finally he found himself living under a bridge in a nearby city.

Of how he once was on top of everything, but lost his job, then his house, and then his truck.  He was able to make do for two years, but in July of last year found himself with nowhere else to go.

So he joined a group of about 30 other people who live under a bridge.  Each in their own area.  Each more or less sticking to themselves.  Each with their own stories.

****

Earlier that afternoon, as I drove to Target near where we live, I intentionally sought to find someone to speak with.  I see so many homeless people in our city.

Some look scary, some look crazy, and some look like me.

For some reason, I’ve been drawn to the homeless.  Honestly, I think it is because I often wonder what it is that separates us — why is that I’m me, and here in the warmth of my house, and they’re them — living outside, fighting for what I take for granted?

What led them there?  What’s to say it can’t happen to me?

What’s to say it can’t happen to you?

****

“Believe me bro, I never wanted this man.  It’s embarrassing dude, having to ask people for money.  I have this sh*tty sign that I made man, because I have to eat you know?”

I nodded, looking him in the eye, and a bit surprised by his direct eye contact.  He unfolded his sign and showed it to me: “Homeless Please Help

What’s it like, standing out here?” I asked, wondering if he’d open up.

“It’s f*cking hard man.  Sometimes I just turn away, like this, and I cry.  I cry because I don’t like this.  I cry because people won’t look at me man.  They think, what, that I wanted this?  That somehow I said one day, f*ck dude, I’m going to be homeless.  No man, it’s not like that.”

I continued looking at him, wondering what’s it like to be him.

“You know what though?  You know what I’m afraid of?  I’m afraid that I’ll get used to this man.  I see some people that are out here for years, you know?  It gets to be a routine, each day.  You sleep, you get up, you stand out here with this stupid sign, you make 10, 15 bucks, and then what?  All you need is to eat and drink man, and that’s it.  And you can do that for a few bucks.  You get used to that sh*t man.  But I don’t want to be like that man, I don’t want it.”

***

In the time I spent with J, I learned things I didn’t know about the homeless community.  From J’s perspective:

  • Many are embarrassed to have to ask you for money.  Some aren’t, they’re used to it, but guys like J don’t like doing it.
  • Trying to find a job is extremely difficult.  Younger (more able) guys are able to find jobs, but if you have a physical ailment (J’s knee is screwed up), and you don’t have a phone or an address, it’s difficult.  Without a job, it’s hard to pull yourself up.
  • Sometimes, living on the streets becomes a routine.  (Like being in Jail, J told me.)  You get used to it.  You start to adjust, and before you know it, you’ve been on the streets for years.
  • Many believe in God.  As J put it, he prays, almost constantly, asking his Creator for help and for an answer.  J sometimes becomes so desperate, that he thinks it would be easier to kill himself – but he wouldn’t do it because he believes it will separate him from his maker.  He believes in Heaven.

***

Earlier today, I ran into a friend who gave me the contact information for someone at the Orange County Rescue Mission.  This organization is set up to help people like my friend J.

So I’m going to try and find J again.

But if I don’t find J, I’m going to continue looking for others like him.  I see brothers and sisters on the street all the time, and most often, I drive right by.  But inside, I’m torn up.  I can’t stand it anymore.

I’m going to start doing something about it.

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About David Rosendahl
Husband, father, co-founder of MindFireInc, two-time Inc500 software company. I love building things.

24 Responses to What’s The Difference Between You and J?

  1. Mikkele says:

    My former roommate worked at the OC rescue mission for 4 years. They do good work there. I hope they can house him.

    • Hey Mikkele, I didn’t know that. They seem like a good organization; I took a quick look at their 2012 report earlier this afternoon. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

    • Anonymous says:

      I live at the O.C.R.M & i told Dave the same thing. I also gave him the #of the intake counselor so he can tell J to call. 🙂

      • You the man! Very much appreciated. I’m going to continue looking for him and I’m sure I’ll find him eventually. Have a beautiful day!

  2. By the way: If you know of any other resources for people like J, please leave them in the comments. I think the OC Rescue Mission sounds like a great resource, but I’m sure there are others too. Thanks!

  3. Renee Turner says:

    When I lived in San Francisco I would spend my Sunday mornings at this tiny hole-in-the-wall doughnut shop. I’d get three of four cups of coffee and a dozen doughnuts and wait. No matter who walked in, I offered them coffee and a doughnut and eventually I had gained a small group of people that trusted the coffee and food. They called themselves “Street People” because they didn’t like “homeless”. They’d share stories about everything – war, family, the jobs they loved, hated, lost. The frustration of their situation and often some would just rant in ways that seemed cathartic for them. Some would tell me who needed to “have the wagon come” so I could call – That’s what they called the vans that would come from various shelters to pick up the sickest, most intoxicated or most likely to be injured of the “Street People”. They’d tell me similar stories and they were the focus of my writings for a long time. I never had much money and all I could ever really do was make the weekly van-calls, buy some coffee (which they always shared with each other – passing it around in a circle) and doughnuts, but I know that taking the time to talk to people and listen, and to just be kind made me a better person. I hope it gave them something, too. I understand and admire your mission!

    • Hey Renee,
      Wow, thanks for sharing. Especially helpful is your note about street people rather than homeless. It makes sense.

      What a beautiful thing you did in SF. I’m sure it touched hearts and that you made a difference for many. It gives me some ideas!

      Thank you for reading and the comments!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hey Dave, call 211 or go to http://www.211oc.org you will find every resource available. There is also S.O.S in Costa Mesa and the Soup Kitchen which as by triangle square which has free meals everyday. Your right there is no difference, the only reason we are not homeless if we lost everything is community

    • Hey JM, thanks for the suggestion. I didn’t know about 211 but will try it. I went looking for J today but couldn’t find him. Will keep looking!

  5. Hey everyone, I found J tonight. I gave him the info for Orange County Rescue Mission. He says he’s going to call. I’ll check back in a few days and see how he’s doing.

    • Renee says:

      Pray for the best and keep in mind that action is so much harder than words. Change can be frightening and even wonderful things can create tremendous anxiety.

      • Hey Renee, I hear you and I’m curious to see what happens. I wasn’t able to stop by today but maybe tomorrow.

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  8. Anne says:

    This is great. Very inspiring.

    • Hi Anne, thank you for the comment and kudos!

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  15. Mark Cordes says:

    Hey David —

    I just discovered your blog this morning as I sit here in the jury holding tank (jury duty). Thanks so much for sharing this, your vision and for doing your blog. I think we have a lot in common. I didn’t know you were one of the principles of Mindfire and even though we are a very small printing company and have not delved into a lot of variable printing, you have my utmost respect.

    Here’s a link to a Homeless ministry I have supported here on the East Coast. I love what these guys are doing because it’s a whole lot more than just a warm meal and a pat on the back. They are actively getting guys off the street, introducing them to God’s grace and mercy and giving them purpose and a reconnection to society.

    http://www.jerichoroadnj.org/

    Thanks David — I plan on being a regular reader of your blog.

    Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you for the kind words! I’m always amazed at how these stories have touched people and made an impact. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know.

      I will check out the link you sent me. I think what you said is very true — our friends on the street need a rekindled sense of purpose, and being connected to society is huge.

      They feel (in many cases, in my experience) like they’re less than human. It breaks my heart!

      Let’s keep in touch, and have a wonderful day in jury duty 🙂

      -dr-

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