I am not sure why, but today I am thinking about a guy named Grady that I met a few years ago. He was homeless living in a tent in some woods in the northwest part of Austin. I met Grady through some friends of mine.
Grady used to stand at the corner of Anderson Mill and 183 with a sign asking for money. That is where my friends met him, because they drove through the intersection often. I feel conflicted and uncomfortable when I pull up to a red light and someone is standing there with a sign asking for money.
Over the years, I have given small amounts of money or food. But at the encouragement of my friends, I sought out Grady to see what else he might need.
The first time I met him he was sitting on a curb under a tree behind a gas station close to the street corner he “worked.” He looked a little concerned when I pulled up, got out, and walked toward him. I introduced myself and told him how I knew his name. Then he relaxed a bit.
I asked if I could sit down for a minute. He agreed, so I pulled up a piece of curb and joined him. And we talked. That’s all.
For about two years I sought Grady out to spend time with him.
Over time I helped Grady with a few physical needs: new glasses (purchased by my friend that introduced me to Grady), updated driver’s license, and a few meals together.
I learned a lot about what life is like for a person who lives on the streets. Here are a few that I learned about Grady:
He lived in fear
I think this is common among people who are homeless. Grady was fearful that someone was going to steal his possessions. He was fearful that the police would arrest him for loitering. He was fearful that he would lose his place to sleep in the woods.
His few possessions were invaluable
On more than one occasion Grady expressed concern over the loss of a backpack or his glasses breaking. Obviously, when a person is homeless they have to keep all of their possessions with them. Either that or find a “safe” place to stash them. I remember buying him a new ball cap one summer. He took his time picking out just the right cap. (I wanted to punch the attendant at the gas station where we bought the cap. He seemed inconvenienced that Grady took his time.)
He considered standing on the corner with a sign his job
This took me by surprise, but it gave me insight into why he did not try harder to find a “real” job. I am not saying that I agreed with him, but he said things like, “I worked for 6 hours today and made $20.” My conclusion is that we all need to feel productive, so we frame our efforts in the best light possible.
His focus was on getting through each day than improving his lifestyle
It took me awhile to understand this. The reason I took him to get a new driver’s license was so he could get a copy of his Social Security card. He had to possess a picture ID before he could get a copy. The Social Security card was so he could get a job. We did all of that, but a few months later he had not done anything else. The reason? The challenges of living each day on the streets.
His biggest need was friendship
Grady was lonely. He always had time to sit and talk. I learned about his past. I learned why he was living on the streets. I found out about a friend who let him shower once a week at his apartment. He told me about his ex-wife and extended family. I listened a lot. Yes, I shared my faith with him. I prayed with him often. But the biggest thing I did was offer my friendship.
Except for the grace of God there go I.
I have not seen Grady for over a year. If you know him and know where he is these day, please let me know. I want to reconnect with him if possible.