night my friend Josh and I hung out with a homeless man in Pittsburgh. We were
walking into a grocery store around 11pm for a snack when a man asked us if we
could spare some change. We passed him on and went inside to get our food, but
as we were walking through the produce section, I turned to Josh and asked him
if he’d want to buy the man some dinner with me. He said sure, so we picked up
a sandwich, some pears and an iced tea, and walked back outside. We walked up
to the man to give him his food and asked if we could sit with him for a while.
He said sure, and we sat down to enjoy our pears. We asked him his name, and he
told us it was Roland, and that he’d been on the streets for 3 years without a
home. Roland was 54, but you would never guess. He was clearly homeless, but he
did his best to take care of his clothes and his appearance. We could tell
pretty quickly that he wasn’t an alcoholic or a drug addict, because he had
retained his youth -though his beard was turning white. As we delved deeper into
Roland’s story, I learned two things: that Roland didn’t really choose to be
homeless, and that I was pretty powerless to do anything to change his


For the first point, let me elaborate: although I can’t claim
to know the whole picture,  I did learn
the immediate circumstances that led to Roland’s state. He was imprisoned a
little over 3 years ago for a few months after he witnessed a woman being
beaten by a man, and tried to intervene and protect the woman. Someone called
the police, who promptly showed up and arrested all three of them, and Roland
-who I’m sure was without a job at the time, and without family either -was
forgotten amid the bureaucracy of the judicial system. When he got out, he had
no money and nowhere to go. I asked him if he had any family, and he replied
simply that his mother was dead. Since then he has moved from place to place
every night, looking for a dry place to sleep. When it’s warm, he will sleep in
parks, but in winter he lies under a bridge to stay warm. When we met him, he
was waiting for a friend of his to return with a blanket for him to use. We
never met his friend, but Josh gave Roland a blanket and some new socks that he
had in the trunk of his car.


I realized around the moment that Roland told me that he
didn’t have a family that there was little that I could do to fix his
situation. This man is 3 years short of my own father’s age, and living in a
city that I know little about. I couldn’t even tell him where the closest
church or shelter was to rest for the night. We gave him some food and a
blanket, and did our best to show him that we respected him, but ultimately we
left without really changing his situation at all.


As small as our actions were though, I think that that might
have been the start of a solution. We sat with Roland for almost an hour, and I
realized that although most people walked by without acknowledging him, a
number of people were unable to when they noticed that Josh and I were sitting
with him. I think that our presence at the very minimum showed the passersby
that Roland wasn’t harmful. I wonder -and I propose that had we stayed with him
longer -the rest of the night, a few days maybe -we might have found a way to
really help him. If we put ourselves in the position to see his full environment,
we would be able to critically assess the core of his poverty, and maybe find a
way to bring him out of it.


even I couldn’t wait to get back to my bed and to lay down to rest.


One thought on “Roland


    Wow! This is great! I think everyone should do this.

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