Houseless in Portland

My first encounter with the houseless of Portland was after a carb-filled dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery. I walked out with a leftover deep-fried cuban sandwich that wouldn’t taste good the next day and would end up in my trashcan. But I hate leaving behind good food, so I asked for it to be boxed. Divert the inevitable for at least another day.

On my walk to the bus, I passed a houseless man on the corner. I recognized him along this route and if he’s not sleeping, he is pleasant. Those are his two modes: asleep or cheerfully bellowing well wishes. He said “Have a good evening!” and I instinctively asked “Do you want this sandwich?” Thanked me repeatedly as I walked away. I glanced back to see him open the sandwich and take the first bite. It felt good.

My second encounter was very similar. I purchased a massive breakfast sandwich on my way to work and knew I wasn’t going to finish both halves. I wouldn’t dare throw it away, so I calculated when I would have time to eat it. I had lunch and dinner plans, I doubted the egg would be good the next day, and I was too full to reasonably finish it then. Coming to terms with throwing it away, I walked by the same cheerful, sleepy man. This day he had friends and they greeted me with a chorus of hello. “Do you want this spicy egg sandwich?” I offered. “Thank you! We will share it.” he answered, followed by a chorus of thank you’s and well wishes. I looked back to see him open the sandwich and offer it to his friends first. It felt good.

Today was hot. I spent the day moseying around coffee shops, shopping at second hand stores, and running the overrated adult errands. A few blocks from my house, I prayed the blocks would get shorter; my book bag was heavy, the large package of toilet paper was sticky in the heat, and I purchased too much fruit from the farmer’s market. It was a pretty miserable walk and finally walking beneath a tree, in front of a 7-11 convenience store, I smiled at how relieving the shade felt. I would’ve loved a slurpee, even though I didn’t have enough hands to carry it.

Sharing the perfectly cool, shaded area was a houseless man. “Hey! How are you doing?” he offered enthusiastically. I commented on his optimal sitting position and admitted that I didn’t have any change. He waved off the money-talk and insisted I “stay cool”. This is an opportunity to do good, I thought. I bought a bag of Doritos, an apple, a super gulp slurpee, and a slice of pizza from 7-11 and handed it to the man outside. “Aw, you didn’t have to do that, that was really nice. I appreciate it.” he said and accepted the food with a wide grin. Further down the block, I stopped and watched him assess the contents of the bag, nod and smile. It felt good.

Sometimes, I feel small because my goals for change are lofty and will take years to accomplish.

I like this feeling because it’s a reminder that I can make immediate change and have impact. Sometimes, I feel small because my goals for change are lofty and will take years to accomplish. Shaping an industry, influencing the next generation, and contributing to the development of technology I’m passionate about take time. It’s nice to know that along the way I can do little things to change someone’s day.