SPECIAL REPORT PART 1 - It takes more than money
The wrinkles are what stood out.
Wrinkles cut deep into his grizzled face, his throat and his large hands.
He looked at me as I approached. I imagine he feared I was coming to hassle him.
When I told him who I was, and that all I wanted to do was ask him some questions, he looked down at the ground.
“Will you talk to me?” I asked.
With a gravely voice, all he said was, “No.”
He said it gently without looking up. It seemed he struggled to get it out.
I walked away looking over my shoulder at him. He stood at an exit to the Super Wal-Mart store on Allen Road.
Next to him on the ground held up by two stakes was a small hand-fashioned cardboard sign that read “Homeless. Will work if possible.”
There he stood in the middle of great prosperity in North Peoria.
He didn’t fit in.
The man looked to be in his 70s. He looked like a man who’d led a hard life.
His picture is the one on the front page. I didn’t get his name or his story, just his picture.
He is as anonymous to me today as he was all those bitterly cold days I passed him this winter without giving him a second thought.
He stood there as numerous people driving new cars went by. Like me, so many times, they didn’t really see him.
But, now I’ve seen his face. I’ve seen his eyes.
It bothers me now.
He might be a veteran.
He might be someone’s grandfather.
He might be a victim of circumstances beyond his control or a victim of his own bad choices.
There’s no way of telling.
This picture in my mind of the old homeless man is starkly different from the one in my mind from the library.
When I embarked on this package of stories, my first in-depth encounter with a homeless person was Brian Graham.
Graham was in the relative comfort of the Main Branch of the Peoria Public Library. It was bitterly cold outside, but warm in the library.
Graham sat there reading.
I introduced myself and we spoke. He answered my questions freely and invited me back if I had anymore.
I did. I met with him, and a friend he called “Snake.” at the Salvation Army’s Safety Net shelter.
That day was bitterly cold, too, but the atmosphere inside the shelter was warm.
The staff talked to the men and smiled.
Nursing students walked through the room checking on the men.
Graham spoke with optimism about this being a temporary situation for him as we stood on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette.
I handed him a $20.
His eyes grew wide.
The money passing our hands was more for me than him.
Days later as I walked away from the old man, standing off Allen Road, my hand rested on $10 in my front pocket.
I planned to give it to him, if while talking to him, I got the sense it would not insult him.
I walked away from him the two $5 bills in my pocket.
I used them that night to buy two Italian meatball sandwiches at Leonardo’s.
I felt guilty, but a man’s got to eat, and I had earned the money.
Like so many people in this area, I gladly put money in the Salvation Army red kettles.
But, I guess now I’ve realized it takes more than just money to wipe away the guilt that can come with having a relatively comfortable life.