One summer night last year, I was on the streets interviewing some of our clients for a project we were working on to raise awareness about homelessness.
The question I was asking folks was, “What do you want people to know about you?”
One young man reflected for a moment and then responded, “I work, just like everybody else. And rent is too damn high.”
We’ll call him Brad, and he was sitting on a curb, eating the sack dinner our volunteers had given him out of the back of our van.
“I just got finished working eleven and a half hours today,” he continued. He was wearing dirty jeans and muddy steel toed work boots that were laced up tight. I imagined that his feet were hurting and begging to get out of those boots after such a long shift.
Brad’s face is kind and he keeps his hair and beard neatly trimmed. Looking at him, most people would not guess that he was living homeless.
I asked Brad what kind of work he did and he told me he worked with a landscaping business full-time.
“We were building ponds in people’s back yards today. And those little water falls that just keep going,” he told me.
He paused and inwardly, I cringed. I was imagining the massive house and yard likely associated with those ponds, and wondering what it felt like for someone who didn’t have a place to live to be working on such a cosmetic project.
He surprised me by saying, “It was fun.”
His face broke into a huge smile as he continued, “When they turn it on and you can see, wow, I made that.”
Brad and I talked for a while more that evening and I kept thinking about him later. The pride that lit up his face when he was talking about the waterfalls he built in people’s back yards was so beautiful.
His words, “I work, just like everyone else,” echoed back at me and I realized that my assumptions about Brad were wrong. He took pride in his work just like I did in mine. I had assumed that because landscaping was such hard physical labor and his living situation was so tough, he would just be trying to get through the days. But I was wrong and it made me happy that he found joy in his work. He told me that he had originally started as a temporary worker but they kept him on because he worked so hard for them. Passion will do that, and it boded well for Brad’s future.
I haven’t seen Brad in a while. Even though he continued to work full-time, he still didn’t make enough money to afford an apartment. Last time I saw him, he had successfully saved enough money to buy a car and was happy to be able to live in that instead of out on the streets. I hope he is still out there building waterfalls.