Rounding a blind corner at a Starbuck’s drive thru, I saw a woman standing against the building’s exterior in the car lane. Her appearance was startling. Missing a front tooth, wearing a dirty t-shirt and shorts, and holding a Starbuck’s coffee cup, she appeared in need. Her tan, leathery skin advertised her hours in sun, possibly days on the streets. I kept driving.
I couldn’t get her face out of my mind, so I drove onto the freeway and took the first exit – I returned to her. She had left the lane and was headed toward the street, carrying her full pack on her back, her two bound kilim blankets in her one hand, and her Starbuck’s coffee in the other. I followed her, pulling into a small parking lot next to a preschool. I turned off my car and went over to her.
I approached her, smiling, telling her I’d seen her in the drive-thru. I asked if she was OK, handing her a folded twenty.
“I’m on the streets for now since the shelters are full. It’s hot out here. I’m waiting for transportation”
How long have you been on the streets?
“A couple months”
Are you from Phoenix?
What put you on the streets?
“Circumstances. It’s hard.”
How old are you?
“54 – I mean, 45 [laugh] sorry I got confused.”
the heat will do that
Do you have a family? children?
“yes, but I don’t know where they are”
Do you know about Interfaith shelter on 9th and Buchanan?
“yeah, I think I’ve been there.”
Here, take my iced tea. You need to stay cool.
“oh thank you but someone put a coffee next to my bag when I went inside to use the bathroom…I’m OK, I don’t need your tea.”
Please take it, it’s a cold drink, not hot like coffee.
“I appreciate you stopping.”
Please know people are out here watching out for you. I care about you. When I saw you at the drive-thru, I could tell you were a good person who needed an extra hand.
With that I got back into my car, rolled down my window and waved to her. She didn’t have an extra hand to wave, but she smiled, and said,
“Someday I hope to get some transportation. thank you.”
I’d been standing on the curb with this woman for only 10 minutes, and I was sweating like crazy – what must it feel like to not have a retreat from the Phoenix 110° heat and to be aimlessly roaming the streets, waiting for transporation? Gratefully, I don’t know firsthand, but I can give her an extra hand by reminding my world that she, along with so many others, exist.
They are hot, and they want a way out of their situation.
A cold bottle of water, simple conversation, or a few dollars may not fix the situation, but it sends the message,
I’m not ignoring your discomfort, and I’d like to give you an extra hand.