My intention in all this was not to draw comparisons between abandoned animals and lost human beings, but it happened all the same. I told my resident Cat Whisperer about the stray cats I’d stumbled across last weekend while making food deliveries to the homeless in downtown Kansas City. Naturally Caroline wanted to visit in person, so yesterday afternoon we loaded up some food and made the drive from our little town to the urban core, exiting the interstate at West Pennway. Immediately we were greeted by the city’s panhandlers and other destitute personalities. Their faces made me second guess my decision to bring an 11 year-old into this part of the world, but nevertheless we drove a few blocks and stopped under the overpass near 20th and McGee where the cats make a home by a vacant warehouse. We set out some cans of food and waited. After a few minutes, a black cat and an orange tabby gathered up the bravery to come out of hiding and take some nibbles. While Caroline concentrated on the cats, I kept watch on our surroundings to make sure we hadn’t attracted any unwanted attention from passers-by. The cats scattered after their bellies were full and we walked back to our truck satisfied that we’d managed to see the cats take the food. As I started the truck, I noticed my homeless friend Kevin carrying a full trash bag up the street. I hollered to him as we drove up the block and offered him some bottled water we brought along.
“How do you know my name?” He asked.
I’d spoken to him at least a half-dozen times in the last year, but he’d apparently lost track of those interactions.
“We have the same name,” I said. “It’s easy to remember.”
“Oh yeah, you’re the Bible guy,” he said. “What you’re doing … what you’re doing … it helps … it helps. Everybody out here on the streets keeps trying to get me to do drugs. I keep telling them no … ”
And from there, he launched into a 2-3 minute impromptu sermon about reading the Bible and why he distrusts other people in his exact situation.
I let him talk and then a passing car caused a break in the conversation and a clear opportunity to move on.
As we pulled away, Caroline asked, “Do you ever feel scared going up to people you don’t know and talking to them?”
“Sometimes, but the conversation you have with them is more important than the food you give them,” I said. “They just want to be acknowledged.”
She accepted that and we drove toward home, handing out bottled water to the panhandlers we’d passed earlier.
Later that night, the homeless people throughout our city would be searching for warm and hidden places to sleep, wondering where their next meal would come from — maybe thinking about lost families or loved ones long gone. Those are likely the same images that flash through a cat’s memory as they make a den together with other strays under a metal delivery dock. We are all God’s creatures, patiently waiting for a blessing — in their case, in the form of a stranger’s kindness — to lift us above our unthinkably sad surroundings.
Earlier this winter, the KCPD scattered a homeless camp that was set up under the overpass near the Children’s Mercy Hospital parking lot downtown. A few weeks after that, shelter boxes and food bowls were set out for the stray cats who hide in an abandoned warehouse in the same spot. I’m sure whoever put out supplies for the animals did so with the best of intentions, but this scene makes me wonder about the value we humans put (or don’t put) on each other’s lives these days.
This man’s loudest voice is as soft as a whisper. Beaten down by luck or fate or the elements, my friend Bill will talk and talk, but not so he can be heard. His words are more about recognition — letting someone in on the fact that he’s a man, still alive, and not a lifeless fixture like a tree or a bench in the park where he sits. For at least two winters now, he has been out on the streets. A day like today — temps in the 40s, nearing 50 — is an unexpected blessing after nights sleeping on frozen pavement and frosted ground. But it’s a fleeting reprieve. The weather will turn again soon, and while the rest of us retreat inside to jobs we’d rather not have and homes that seem like burdens, we are alive. We speak. People see us. These are bigger things than we realize.
This is a strange time we’re living in. With all the information that is available to us, people still somehow manage to be terribly misinformed. With social media and dating apps and so on, you would think there would be a lot less loneliness and people would finally be coming together … understanding/
Out dropping off warm clothes, bottled water and bibles with these young men on Saturday afternoon. We met a couple — Michael and Denise — in Washington Square Park. They traveled to Kansas City together from North Carolina. Michael is a homeless vet and Denise is his Christian traveling partner (she read her favorite verse to us: Hebrews 9:27.) I also reconnected with my long lost friend Bill who I haven’t seen all summer. If anyone is interested in making a donation to the homeless in downtown KC, we received requests for a backpack, sunglasses, talcum powder and AAA batteries. Shoot me a private message if you would like to pitch in.
If you want to find God, then come to the city with me.
He is, at first glance, nowhere here — until you realize that He is, of course, everywhere — in fine details and small gestures.
Beneath the interstate overpass, for example, where men camp in packs under the roar of thousands of passing cars, He is present in a handshake and conversation with a lone beggar at the exit ramp.
In the park, a man sleeps on the ground all night. Next to him is an empty Ziplock bag with the words “hope this helps” scribbled in marker — a remnant from a random angel who, like you, just wants to do something kind in this world. God has already been there and, no doubt, has never left.
On a park bench, a man whose hands are filthy from living outdoors for months pulls the hair of a young woman into a ponytail. She is pregnant, but the baby is not his and you can sense that while he might love her, she is not in love with him. Still, God is in the way he combs her hair.
God is with yet another pregnant woman who sleeps on her back on a picnic table in the same park. Lying there exposed to the morning sunlight, she is either too tired or too high or both to leave that place. But God is with her too. He has kept her alive and safe for the night, with the gift of another day to turn things around.
“How can God abandon his people like this if He truly loves them?” I don’t pretend to know the answer to this question that crushes the faith of so many. But I do have a guess: God does not always show up in a rush and right everything that’s wrong, like we want him to. No matter your religion or feelings about faith, there is undeniable suffering all around us. Maybe that suffering exists so God can see whether … in all that pain … He can find you.
With summer here and the temperatures about to intensify, I’m going to be making more visits to my homeless friends downtown. If you or your family would like to donate food/bottled water, make meals or even tag along with me on a drop-off mission, shoot me a private message and we can work out the details. (Pictured is Kevin, the wisest man on the streets. Blessed in his knowledge of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, he delivered an impromptu street service to me on the conversion of the apostle Paul. He may not have a place to live, but he fulfills a need in our superficial world — a need for deep people.)