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.