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  • Writer's pictureUrsula Vari


By the time I got to Astro Burger, my excitement shot through the meager roof of my Prius. I knew Tim would be elated to get his burger with “mucho mayo” as he asked for it the day before. With the care packages for the street-dwellers in my trunk and the scent of the charred meat, I headed downtown.

Broadway was empty devoid of the pushers on the corner of 5th and even the long stretch till 7th street was missing the usual moving blanket encased bodies. I knew Tim would be in the shade of some tree on 9th Street.

And there he was leaning against the wall of the adjacent parking lot with his wheelchair resting by his head staring into the branches of a wise tree above. He was happy to see me. I handed him the loot with the burger and he stared at the colorful bag with the bright logo like some prime gift box hiding a Rolex, his eyes shining with the light of thousands of stars. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that he mattered to someone and that he got his own personal meal delivery girl. As for me, I was happy to be of service.

Up the street a few feet away I saw Kelly, who called me over remembering all too well that his meal two days prior came from me. I told Tim I would leave him alone with his burger and headed to give Kelly his lunch bag with some food and hygiene items. There was a young man twitching alongside him. I recognized the involuntary effects of meth from my old days as a tweaker and I knew the unpredictability the drug could bring about. I kept my distance from the young man “This one is for you” I placed a care package a few feet from him and I handed Kelly his. That’s when the young man burst out of his twitching and headed straight towards me at high speed. At the exact moment I simultaneously heard a police siren and two construction workers behind the barbed wire fence of the parking lot screaming “Hombre!”. My angels were watching. The young man, alarmed by the sound of the siren whizzed across the street and I could smell his skin as he vanished in the alley. The officer was courteous and suggested that if I was to do what I did –feeding the homeless- I must at all times have one hand free, a thing I usually observe but that day was an exception. I thanked the officers for looking out for me – as well as the curious construction workers- who I came to find out were simply staying in the parking lot to look out for me.

When I returned to Tim, he was gloriously content having finished his burger and I got some news to share with him. I told him I spoke with an organization that might have room for him and he can start over and be away from the streets. I told him how I would help him apply for Social Security and walk with him on the path. He kept staring into the distance and kept saying yes, but knowing people the way I do – I knew he was scared. I turned off the camera. And I asked him to look me in the eye “Tim, I know you are scared, I know all you know are the streets and that you feel safe here, but I want you one day to be able to call home and tell your sons, Roshan and Carlos about your new job as a chef and to tell them about your new life away from the streets. I want them to be proud of you but more than anything I want you to be proud of yourself. I will walk with you. I want you to think about it and if this is something you are ready to do. I will come back in a couple of days and if you say “yes” we call the Social Security Office and start the process.” I kept holding Tim’s gaze, reassuring him “I am with you all the way.” “Thank you, Ma’am”- he said in his usual polite tone and off I went to help whoever I could find.

Further up on Hill Street, I saw a figure sitting at the corner of 6th leaning against the wall, shaking a paper cup with meager dimes in it. With half of his face missing, people walked by him unable to acknowledge his presence. Jerry, 57 was shot point blank range at a bus stop after work some time back. After the doctors put him back together he lost his job and lost his home. We sat there talking about life, although he couldn’t really see me as the only eye he had left was impaired, I could tell he enjoyed my company and me his. Jerry lost everything, except his hope and his wit. He stayed lighthearted, full of hope and dreams, like visiting the Big Apple one day.

We talked about the virus and the current situation and his view on its origins and with every sentence he blew my mind. I gave him a care package and he asked me to come back and look for him next time. The truth is I will return to find him on my next mission, without him asking. Street dwellers don’t want our pity, they want connection, they want friendship, many want mentorship, and many a roadmap to integrate back into life and to get off the streets. The hope we can give to one another and the kindness that comes with is worth more than empathy. As far as compassion, that isn’t enough anymore. Compassion in action is where it’s at.


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