What do you do when you see a woman in her eighth or ninth month of pregnancy, standing on the corner, holding a sign asking for money?
My weekend ritual is to grab my tablet, head out to a restaurant, and indulge in unhealthy food while I write a blog post or story. Today, I was craving Taco Bell- greasy, horrible, and only resembling actual food, I still love it. As I turned into the parking lot, I noticed the woman described above.
I see people holding signs every day. Sort of. I see them, but I don’t really SEE them. I pretend something across the street is holding my gaze, or fiddle with the knobs on my stereo. I’ve been told stories about panhandlers making $15-20 an hour. Truth or urban myth? The fact for me was that I couldn’t stop thinking about this particular woman. As I sat eating my tacos under a cloud of guilt, I watched her.
Maybe it is because I was pregnant in Phoenix in July. It was a miserable experience. I would remove all of my clothes and spritz myself with a water bottle, hoping the air conditioning would hit the water and cool my body to a reasonable temperature.
It is about 110 degrees in Phoenix today. I arrived at the restaurant about 2pm, and observed her for over an hour. I have no idea how much of the day she has spent standing up in the sun.
I wanted to help her. What could I do beyond providing a meal and a few dollars? Her husband or boyfriend was with her. Stories of Elizabeth Smart and the Girl in the Box ran through my head. As much as I wanted to drive them to a shelter, or bring them to my own home, implausible tales stopped me. Still, I had to do something.
I bought a few tacos and burritos and filled cups with water and ice. I located the info for Maggie’s Place and scrawled the numbers and addresses on a scrap of paper. From donating with them in the past, I knew they provided shelter and services to pregnant women in need.
I headed across the street to deliver the food and information, wondering what the encounter would be like. I have never actually spoken to a homeless person beyond handing them a couple of dollars.
They thanked me for the food and water. I inquired as to if she had a plan for the baby. She said that she was working with an adoption agency, but I wondered if she was telling the truth. Would a reputable agency have an expectant mother begging on the street? I hope not, but what do I know of such things.
I gave her the information for Maggie’s Place, and she seemed genuinely interested. She started telling me her story. Her husband was out of work. They were staying in cheap hotels when they could afford it, and sleeping on the street when they couldn’t. They were the parents of two other children who had been taken from them. She was giving this baby up for adoption because she knew she couldn’t provide a home. She wanted her husband to find a steady job so they could get a permanent residence and get their kids back.
Judgments ran through my mind, but so did sympathy. Mostly for the child in her belly who hadn’t asked for any of this. But also for her, for him. No one expects to find themselves holding a cardboard sign with the words “please help” written on it.
I gave them all the money in my wallet- $7. Maybe it was a scam. As I saw the man light a cigarette a few minutes later, I wondered if I had been duped. But it was only $7. Would I sleep better tonight had I kept it?
I had given them food, water, money, and information. Still I felt helpless. I opened my laptop and emailed the agency, giving directions to their location. I wondered if anyone would read the message in time.
I thought to myself why aren’t I calling myself? I dialed Maggie’s Place and asked the woman who answered if they had the ability to send anyone over. She said she would make a few phone calls. Their house was full, but she knew of some shelters with resources, including providing transportation. I guess I would have to be satisfied with that.
A few minutes later, the couple left. The woman stopped every few feet of walking to catch her breath. She carried a backpack and an umbrella while her husband walked alongside her and smoked another cigarette. It made me angry with him. I wanted to shout “STOP SMOKING AROUND HER! CARRY THAT BACKPACK! GET HER OUT OF THE SUN!” I wanted a van from a shelter to pull up and wisk her away to a better life.
Mostly, I wanted to cry and hurry home to hug my own babies. I said a silent thanks to whatever hand fate has played in affording me the life I have, to be the one offering water, and food, and information. I get to rest in the shade, and eat my tacos, and tomorrow, she’ll probably be out of my mind and life forever.