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My heart was softened in encounter with homeless man

On a recent Thursday morning I stopped into a local Subway for a breakfast sandwich. Parking my car, I saw a man with his shoulders wrapped in a raggedy blanket hobbling around barefoot on the sidewalk. He appeared to be strung out on meth.

I didn’t want to park near him because I honestly didn’t want to be approached for money but there was no other place to park. The young man wandered my direction making bizarre sounds, totally in “tweaker” mode. Dried blood was caked onto his leg. I imagine that sleeping on sidewalks can be rough but then I’ve never had to, thank God. His cracked feet were mostly bare except for some dingy wraps around some of his toes. 

I’ve seen his type hundreds of times on the streets.

As if a switch had been flipped, he addressed me with a surprisingly clear request: “Do you think you could buy me a soda at Subway?”

I hesitated and replied, “Yeah, sure I can do that for you.”

He seemed surprised that I invited him inside. He eagerly dropped his dirty blanket outside the door and followed me in.

A twinge of embarrassment came over me as he displayed the mannerisms of an immature child as he gazed and laughed at signage. He was like a child inside a candy store for the first time.

The embarrassment gave way to feelings of sorrow at this man’s condition. This was somebody’s son – perhaps somebody’s brother – and he was this strung-out human being. His brokenness, his addiction and his hunger are tragic and only multiplied tenfold across our county and state and nation.

My conscious was nagging at me and I was softening. “Would you like a sandwich too?,” I offered.

“Yes, I’d love a sandwich,” he answered as he rubbed his dirty hands together almost giddy like. Or maybe he was just trying to warm them up.

He introduced himself as Jacob. That’s when he fist-bumped me, as if he had conditioned not to shake hands of someone who wasn’t homeless.

I waited for the woman behind the counter to complete the order for a dad and his daughter as they kept guarded eyes on Jacob due to his bizarre behavior – and perhaps to make sure he didn’t get close. In a moment of self-righteousness I looked at them and wondered if they would have passed the man up without a word, because let’s be honest, most of us do that. Encounters with the homeless will cost something – time or money and sometimes our safety.

Jacob asked the clerk for permission to use the restroom since it was locked and was given the code. I watched as he shuffled into the back of the shop, pausing to brush the back of his arm several times over the green wallpaper, as if he was harnessing some kind of energy. Drugs can certainly whack out the brain and induce all kinds of psychosis.

He still hadn’t appeared by the time I ordered to ask what kind of sandwich he preferred – probably not a qustion he could have answered in his meth state – so I ordered him my standard breakfast sandwich of egg, ham, tomatoes and chipotle sauce. I paid for the order, handed him a sandwich and the soda cup. He thanked me as I sat down. He denied himself a seat, balancing his weight on his crusty, blistered feet as he devoured the sandwich. I watched as he began using the wrapper for a napkin so I walked over to the napkin dispenser and gave him what he needed to wipe his mouth.

He then shuffled over to me and asked if I could buy him a bag of Doritos Cool Ranch chips. So I bought him two. He dove right into one of the bags.

Another customer, a black gentleman wearing a jacket that read ‘SECURITY’ was now at the counter and occasionally watched Jacob. He quickly figured out that the homeless man was there thanks to my generosity. “That poor guy needs some help,” I whispered to the man. He replied, “Sometimes all you can do is pray, brother.”

I left the shop at the same time as the off-duty security guard and my apparent concern for Jacob touched him so he spun around and extended his hand, saying “God bless you.” We exchanged names with a handshake and he was off to his car.

Jacob came outside and stooped over to pick up his dirty blanket. I looked into Jacob’s eyes which the cloud-filtered morning sun was illuminating. I told him, “God bless you, take care of yourself.”

“God bless you, too,” he replied and walked off a bit less hungry.

Immediately the passage of the Bible in which Jesus spoke about helping our fellow man – that doing so to the least of these brothers was like doing it to the Lord himself – came to mind.

I sat in my car and I wept.

I’d just experienced a God moment intended to sandpaper some of my rough edges.

The next day I remembered Jacob with out there in the cold with no shoes. I had a new pair of Skechers I didn’t exactly like after I bought them. I hunted them up and rummaged through my belongings to find some newer shoes, a coat and a shirt and searched out Jacob the next day. He was nowhere to be found. They’re still in my car, ready to be given to him or someone like him, in case I spot him.

Don’t ever let Jesus go hungry if you are ever presented the same opportunity.

* * * * *

A gentleman in Ceres asked me why there were Condit signs post near Walmart and wondered who those were for. I guess he had to ask since you never know which family is running for this office or that office. Apparently he didn’t see Channce Condit is running for re-election to the Board of Supervisors. I explained that Channce Condit has those signs posted even though his is the only name on the ballot, which is somewhat of a head scratcher and an unnecessary imposition on the streetscape. I explained that Condit also posted signs and walked door-to-door when running unopposed for Ceres City Council in 2018.

Politics is strange business.

This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.  How do you feel about this? Let Jeff know at