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Homeless by Choice—but Does It Matter?
As another aspect of our Urban Plunge, my team of six was assigned by our CSM hosts to go to the park at Franklin Square in downtown DC to engage with homeless people over lunch. Each of us had been given six dollars by our CSM hosts: four dollars for transportation (round-trip bus fare), and two dollars to pool to provide lunch for ourselves and one or more homeless person(s).
We were encouraged to be creative in how we obtained lunch for seven or more for only twelve dollars. We were creative by walking the two miles to Franklin Square. This saved us two dollars each and doubled our available lunch funds. Before setting out, we debated the moral implications of diverting our travel money. Was this cheating, skirting the challenge of finding a meal with only two dollars each?
In the end, majority opinion prevailed and we walked, also influenced by the beautiful weather. (Our consciences were salved when we later learned that homeless people walk practically everywhere, especially in good weather; money being scarcer than time for them.)
At Franklin Square two of us headed to a nearby Domino’s Pizza to see how much lunch they could get for twenty-four dollars. The remaining four of us split into pairs to wander through the park and identify a likely homeless person or two with whom we might have lunch and try to engage in a civil, informative conversation. Picking out a promising luncheon partner was not easy for me, in no small measure because of the gulf between my experience and that of those on the park benches. Many looked as if the last thing on their mind was a conversation with anyone. Some were asleep. Others were already eating soup or other food being distributed by churches or other charities. The ground was strewn with whole and half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in sandwich bags—evidence that the culinary options that noon were broad and deep, and that cold PBJ sandwiches did not make the grade.
My teammate and I approached two thirty-something males sitting on a bench who made eye contact with us. Starting a conversation, we found them to be friendly, engaging, and articulate. They both claimed to be “homeless by choice.” Having lost a job and become disillusioned with the “rat race” of daily life at home in Pennsylvania, they each, separately, decided to try life on the streets.
Both had moved to Washington after researching which urban areas offered the most generous public and charitable support for the homeless. Washington won. They met each other at a homeless shelter, and both recognized that the other was “polite,” not angry or paranoid, as apparently many of the homeless are. They struck up a friendship and often hang out together and watch each other’s backs.
By God’s grace we had been led to two apparently sane, thoughtful homeless people with whom we could have lunch and explore a list of questions suggested by CSM. I must admit that I felt a little guilty. This was too easy. In retrospect, I like to believe that God led us to these two “Gentlemen of Franklin Park” (GFP).
As our teammates returned with several Domino’s pizzas to share with our guests, we dove into conversation with the GFP. In the course of our conversation, here are several of the things we learned:
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