By Victoria Koch
I find it’s easy to make assumptions or judgments about people. Recently, one hot late-summer morning, I was getting ready to water my front yard and back garden. As I walked outside towards my sidewalk, I noticed a group of loud talking young boys sitting in front of my neighbor’s fence with all their packs and gear askew. There was also an assortment of pop cans on the parking strip. “Oh great! They will probably leave a mess.”
I decided to water my backyard first.
When I returned to the front yard, a few of the boys were standing with their heavy packs hoisted upon their backs; others were sitting, still sorting through their junk. The talking had gotten louder. “Oh well,” I thought, “I have to water.”
With my hose spraying my flowers and vegetables, I snuck a look their way. A few of these young boys or young men were ready to travel on. One of them came from across the street to meet the group using the F-word. Another one looked over my way and said, “Sorry, Ma’am.”
Those two little words changed everything for me. I shed my frustration and replied, “Thank you for saying that.”
By now most of the group were heading down the street. One young boy was left on the sidewalk putting his final items into his pack. The pop cans continued to lay in the dirt. Slowly, though, I watched as this young man picked up each can and put it in his pack. “Thank you so much for cleaning up. People often leave such a mess.”
I am an outgoing person and can easily talk with most strangers. This kid started reminding me of all the kids I taught as a teacher at Looking Glass’s Riverfront School.
“Do you have your high school diploma?” I asked.
“I have my GED,” he replied.
“That’s so great! Where are you from?”
“Junction City,” he replied.
Our talk flowed easily. I began wondering how this kid came to be on the street. But I didn’t ask. As he was getting ready to leave and join the rest of his crew, he told me: “Be sure to drink plenty of water. It’s a hot day.”
My thoughts started pouring in: What a sweet kid. He’s caring about me, and he’s on the street. Why is he on the street, I wondered. What is his family like? His pack was on his back, and he told me that St. Vincent had these white tents by their store where they let street kids sleep. He also mentioned that he wanted to get some kind of job and save his money so he’d be able to get a room in an apartment.
Why do we criminalize and put down the homeless? Why do we stereotype kids who are on the street? As I watched him walking down my block, I remembered I had some leftover homemade taquitos. I quickly gathered them from my refrigerator and ran after him. “Hey, hey.” I said loudly. He stopped and turned around as I approached.
“Here, please take these. I made them and they might fall apart but they have good ingredients.”
He smiled broadly, “Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.”