Confluence Denver – New & Next contributor Tiffany Christian knows too well the difficulty of homelessness. Like many women in Colorado, she’s personally experienced it.
Today, Christian is a graduate of Community College of Aurora and a current student at the University of Denver. She’s also a member of a grassroots network of individuals and organizations behind Close to Home, a new campaign to raise awareness, increase understanding and move Coloradans to speak up and take actions that make a meaningful difference in addressing homelessness. For Christian, she understands and thinks differently about how important it is to see people who are experiencing homelessness, and to treat them with respect, and Close to Home has helped her to personally engage in helping to make a difference.
It was approximately 8 p.m., and I was coasting around Aurora listening to music and chillin’. As I drove out Iliff Avenue I saw a man pushing a cart full of huge trash bags filled with stuff. Clearly, he seemed to be experiencing a hardship. I found a place to park, walked to meet him and said hello; he said hi back. I told him that I saw him pushing this heavy basket, then asked if he was doing alright. He replied, “I’m good.” I explained my teenaged daughter has a social life, which usually left me at home, but this night was different and I felt like being out and about.
I asked him if he would mind me walking with him. He didn’t, so we continued to walk, talking casually. He talked about politics while I listened. Sometimes I had a question, or I gave a personal opinion, but mostly I was an engaged listener. Prying felt uncomfortable, so giving him the personal space to talk about whatever he wished was okay with me. Every now and then I tried asking about his necessities. It was cold, so my questions when straight to gloves, hats, and blankets. My additional attempt at offering assistance was shut down again by his nonchalant, “I’m good.”
During another point in our conversation I apologized for changing the subject then took the risk to ask about his living situation. How does he eat, and how does he stay warm? He told me he lost his home to a fire and flood, and since then has experienced challenges as a homeless veteran. I observed that this man is very intelligent, educated and has a great set of morals. After a while, my ears began to hurt due to the cold. I wanted to leave and get in my car to turn the heater on. Instead, I told myself I could bear the cold a few minutes longer, shoot, he does it every night!
How privileged I was to have the option to get in a warm car, let alone go home to a warm place. The talking tuned into two hours. The hurt in my ears became unbearable, which was my cue to go. After I asked how I can be in touch, he pointed where he hangs out. Then I thanked him for talking to me. I watched him cross the street while pushing his cart. He was moving slowly. In those two hours, I became attached. I didn’t leave immediately because the mother in me had to watch him cross the street safely.
I’m the kind of person that cannot leave a situation undone, and this situation was undone. I couldn’t fix it. I drove away and passed a McDonald’s, with the intention of getting him a hot chocolate, but they ran out. So, I bought him a gift card instead.
I drove to his hideout and found him. As if the two hours wasn’t enough we talked for another hour. Again, he talked about politics, while I listened. I plan to visit him from time to time. Next time I talk to him I’m going to ask if he is able to carry a sleeping bag, safely. That night as we were talking he told me he used to have a blanket, but someone took it.
Although I offered him a seat in my car to warm up, food and future visits, he is still out there. I asked myself what more can I do.
For more information on Close to Home, including ideas and ways to engage in ending homelessness in Colorado, visit www.closetohome.org. For tips on what to do, and what not to do, in an encounter with a person experiencing homelessness, click here.