December 24, 2013
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
Naked, and you clothed Me;
I was sick, and you visited Me;
I was in prison, and you came to Me.
…Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine,
even the least of them,
you did it to Me.
– The Gospel of Matthew
I’d like you meet someone I’ve known for years, but have actually never met until today. He spends most days sitting on a street corner not far from my home asking for food, water or ‘anything’ to help. I have driven past him virtually everyday for the past four years, and I kindly return his friendly smile or wave, or offer him some spare change if it is available. His presence has become so commonplace to me, that if he isn’t on the street corner I get a bit worried, and I wonder what has happened to him. Despite this, I have never once bothered to take a moment out of my day to sit with him and ask him his story.
Well today I decided to change all that. Instead of simply driving by, I pulled into a nearby drug store and purchased a Santa’s hat as a gift for him. I then walked over to meet him and find out more about this man I see nearly everyday but know nothing about.
It turns out his name is Phillip. He is 56 years old and is struggling to make ends meet. Because of his disability, he is unable to work so he receives a monthly disability check from the government of $700. Out of that stipend he pays $600/mo for rent, with the remainder going towards heat and electricity. There is nothing left for food or clothing. Years ago, he would dig around in dumpsters for food, or he would break into cars to steal money in order to feed himself. But he says those days are behind him, and now he simply appeals to people’s charitable side by working the street corner every day.
Phillip actually doesn’t live around here. He and his roommate live in a trailer about 10 miles away, where rent is more affordable. He commutes here in his ‘old beat up jalopy’ (his words) that his sister left to him when she passed away a few years ago. I guess the street corners around here are more charitable than his neighborhood, not to mention safer. Some days are better than others, but between he and his roommate they manage to make ends meet. When I asked about his roommate, he told me that she spends a lot of her days on the streets too. She isn’t able to contribute as much to their pool of money anymore since she suffers from diabetes and was diagnosed a few years ago with cancer. She does what she can, but the doctors have told her that her days are numbered. I guess the days when I don’t see Phillip on the street corner it is because he is taking her to the doctor, or simply spending time at home with her when she having a bad day. They’ve been together for 22 years – the same amount of time my husband and I have been married. But, Phillip doesn’t think she’ll live another year.
I sat and talked with Phillip for a little while longer and he told me about growing up, the places he’d visited while his dad was with the Navy, and how he ended up here in Colorado. There is so much more I could have learned from him, but I could tell he was anxious to get back to ‘work’. So, at the end of our conversation I told him that I was a photographer and about my Project 365. He offered to be my ‘subject’ for the day, and I handed him the Santa hat that I had purchased at the drug store. He excitedly placed the hat on his head and proudly posed for his holiday portrait…
Merry Christmas, Phillip. It was nice to meet you.