Last week I met “Ned,” a doggedly cheerful twenty-something who recently lost his housing when he and his girlfriend broke up. “She kept the apartment,” he explained. Now he sleeps here and there in the U District. Over coffee as we sat on a bench outside a neighborhood church, Ned told me of his plans to get his GED “or maybe even a high school diploma,” with help from Seattle Education Access, on NE 50th near the Ave. He had his first appointment set up there the next day.
Ned isn’t interested in staying at the ROOTS shelter a few blocks away. He patted his sleeping bag. “I’m not afraid of sleeping outside. I’m pretty comfortable with the outdoors. Lived in the woods after my dad kicked me out of the house. I was 7 at the time.”
“You were a handful, huh?” I asked.
“No, he just couldn’t be around kids. When he and my mom divorced, my brother went with my mom. She couldn’t take both of us, so I stayed with my dad. After a while he couldn’t stand me anymore and kicked me out. I lived in the woods behind his house. Sometimes he left food for me on the back porch. I stole apples from his trees. I can live anywhere.”
Our paths crossed again a few days ago, and I asked him how his appointment at Seattle Education Access had gone. “Great!” he said, and pulled out a fat preparation manual for all the tests. I told him that I enjoyed occasionally tutoring students in GED, ESL, and ABE (Adult Basic Education) course work. When he didn’t look interested, I added, “But you’re a pretty independent guy.”
His reply: “Yeah, I’m independent enough to ask for help when I need it. What’s your phone number?” I wrote it on the inside cover of his book.
Today I saw Ned again and said hello, but didn’t mention tutoring or anything related to it. Two hours later my phone rang at home: “Do you have any time this week?” He and I will meet for an hour of tutoring on Thursday.
My point is that a few brief friendly encounters begins to feel like a relationship. More can be built upon it, because people need each other, and because most of us love more readily than we hate. It’s a wonderful life!
Please consider tutoring at or donating to Seattle Education Access. Or just invite one homeless person to meet you each week for coffee at a cafe. Ideas about how to get started are tabbed above, but you already know that getting started is pretty simple. It starts with “Hi!” and a smile and a minute to spare.
P.S. There are now 1 million homeless children in the U.S. These are kids with families, not “unaccompanied youth” like Ned. My article about homeless schoolchildren, “Back to School Homeless,” is at Crosscut.