Sep 14

The Sixteenth Street Mall

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind.” 2 Tim 1:7

About two weeks ago, our family took a spontaneous overnight trip to downtown Denver. Our oldest daughter, Naomi, who is 8 years old, loves downtown. It is her favorite place to go in Denver. She loves all the tall buildings, and especially the Sixteenth Street Mall. So one day when the kids were out of school, and we were all looking forward to some family time together, Tim pricelined a 4-star hotel and got a good deal and we all went downtown to spend the night in a high-rise hotel. We stayed on the 21st floor and the girls had a blast looking out the window and watching the cars drive by below us.

The Sixteenth Street Mall has lots of stores, a free shuttle train that runs up and down the street, a variety of places to eat, a Barnes & Noble (that’s my favorite) with a train table for kids to play (that’s Sarah’s favorite), some pretty good street musicians, and it also has a lot of homeless people. It makes sense to me that they’d pick this as a place to stay. There are lots of visitors, most of whom appear to have money to give away since they’re just shopping the day away. So there are homeless people on almost every corner or sitting on benches, with their backpacks and rolling carts.

I have never given money to anyone on the street and I don’t volunteer in homeless shelters. I struggle with this, because I believe that homeless people are overlooked and marginalized. I believe many of them are on the streets due in part to circumstances beyond their control–maybe they are mentally ill, maybe they just fell on hard times and didn’t have a supportive family to fall back on. Many times I think, “But for the grace of God go I.” I am blessed to have extended family that loves me and cares for me. If something happened to cause me to lose my home, I don’t think they would let me live on the streets. That is not true for some. The economy has surely had an effect on the homeless population. People lose jobs, then lose homes. Anyway, it is safe to say that I am sympathetic toward the homeless. Yet I do not interact with them. I don’t talk to them or touch them. Tim and I support many charities and missions, but I don’t even want to look them in the eye when we walk by–or they might talk to me.

To be honest, I am afraid of homeless people. I have a fear of contamination. When Tim is cooking, I am often following him around the kitchen making sure that raw meat doesn’t get anywhere and that the utensils used for raw meat go straight in the dishwasher. I’m always trying to clean up after him before he’s done and I’m sure it’s very frustrating┬áfor him! If a clean shirt accidentally gets dropped in the dirty clothes basket, that’s it–it is now dirty, too. And I hate, hate, hate picking up shoes. Who knows where shoes have been, really? Honestly, I am better than I used to be, but the dangers of transmitting germs and bacteria and such still stresses me out. This fear transfers to homeless people, and I am ashamed of it, but it’s true.

While on our trip to Denver, we went out to breakfast. We went to McDonald’s on the Mall, because that’s our favorite fast-food breakfast. We typically get 3 of the “Big Breakfast with Hot Cakes” platters and divide it up between the five of us. McDonald’s on the Mall is a magnet for the homeless population, probably because it’s cheap and it’s indoors. To illustrate how popular the location must be, there is a sign in the restaurant that says, “No Backpacks Allowed.” Every time we go to this restaurant, I always see at least three or four customers who seem to be homeless, who have all their bags and possessions gathered around them.

This morning, I went up to the counter to get some cups of water for myself, Tim, and Naomi and Rachel. We aren’t coffee drinkers and we don’t want to drink soda first thing in the morning, so we had just asked for cups of water with our meals. This restaurant had a self-serve water cooler on the counter, so I was filling up four cups of water. A man who appeared to be homeless came up to the counter, and asked the employee for a cup of water. The answer was that a cup of water cost X amount of money if it wasn’t purchased with a meal. This man said he did not have any money, and asked if he could just have a cup. The employee–who clearly had been told this policy many times over by his manager/boss–got a little uncomfortable and said he was sorry but couldn’t give it away. I was RIGHT NEXT to this man filling up four cups of water, so I handed him one of ours. He (and the employee) both thanked me. We had a short conversation and he did ask for help getting a bus ticket to Louisiana, but I told him I couldn’t help him with that.

I realize now that this was the first time I have ever talked to someone who was probably homeless. As a Christian, I know Jesus spent much time with the forgotten and forsaken of society. And I believe the Bible is true, so I believe the verse at the top of this post–“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Yet my anxiety still goes up when we walk past a homeless person. I surely hope God is not done with me yet.

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