A memorial mass for a local homeless man framed our trip to Salt Lake City the day before we left town. The homeless man, hit and killed by a car in March on a busy Central Florida road was partly identified through his pockets full of Starbucks and Panera gift cards given to him by caring people who took time to get to know him. At the memorial service, a simple urn donated by a county memory garden contained the remains of this bearded, beloved to many, homeless man.
Our trip took us to Denver, CO, before boarding the California Zephyr Amtrak train to Salt Lake City. Four random Denver taxi drivers, all from Ethiopia, expressed their gratefulness to be living in the United States. There is a homeless population living on the streets of Denver. The California Zephyr’s route travels through majestic, yet desolate canyons, following the Colorado River. As we left Denver, many homeless people stood along the station’s railroad tracks.
Arriving in Salt Lake City, we observed homeless people of every age on street corners, sleeping in vacant building entrances, holding signs asking for assistance. I saw the face of the local homeless man reflected in each homeless person I encountered in Denver or Salt Lake City.
Homeless people are around us from coast to coast, living under bridges, trees, in woods, on streets, carrying belongings in borrowed shopping carts or in well worn garbage bags.
The day we flew home, news reports mentioned our local officials visiting Salt Lake City to observe best practices to help their homeless population. It is too late for the man hit by a car last March but a glimmer of hope is building for others. May the area officials respond in more generous and permanent ways to help the homeless community before more lives are tragically lost.
“Have I ignored the needs of the poor, turned my back on the indigent, taken care of my own needs and fed my own face while they languished? Wasn’t my home always open to them? Weren’t they always welcome at my table?” (Job 31:16-18, The Message)