An encounter on the streets of Philadelphia

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I met a homeless couple on the street near our hotel.

David and Alicia recently moved from New Jersey to Philly looking for work. They have a three year old son and Alicia recently gave birth to what would have been twins if one hadn’t died in the womb. The surviving twin was born with multiple deformities and diseases. They didn’t say where the surviving infant was, but I’m assuming she is in the state’s care.

David and Alicia’s three year old son was recently taken away from them after they tried to check into a Philadelphia shelter. They were turned away and the shelter alerted the Department of Human Services. The shelter wouldn’t take them in because apparently you have to live in Philly for at least 30 days before a shelter will house you. So, they are being forced to live on the street until May 26th.

There’s no doubt that drugs had a hand in creating their present reality, but that morning, I could tell they were both sober. David told me they had been clean for over a year. I believe him.

The first time I saw them I was taking a short walk before our team met for breakfast. It was all I could do to ignore them as I walked by. There was just something different about them. Something about the innocent desperation in David’s eyes. But I forced myself to keep walking, justifying my callousness by thinking there’s nothing keeping him from getting up off that sidewalk and finding a job. What do I know.

I went back to our hotel room where the team was eating breakfast. We had a lot of uneaten food, more food than David and Alicia had probably eaten in the past two weeks. So I bagged it up and took it downstairs, hoping David and Alicia were still there.

They were.

What followed was one of the most heart-wrenching conversations I’ve had in a long time. This couple was sleeping in a park, had no money, just had their three year old son taken away from them, and somewhere their handicapped baby was living in state custody.

I gave them the food and a little cash, shook their hands and left. As I was getting up, David peeked in the bag. I’ve never seen a grown man be so excited about a bag of apples, muffins and granola bars. I hope it made their day on the street just a little easier.

So tonight, as I curl up in my warm bed I will remember David and Alicia sleeping in the park. I will remember the marginalized. Remember that everyone has a story. And I will remember that everyone deserves a chance to tell that story.