It was a hot day with the temperature hovering around 95 and very humid. Around the Capital Square every park bench was occupied. In front of every person sitting on a park bench were that person’s belongings. Some had suitcases, others had black garbage bags and one had a shopping cart.
As we neared the law enforcement memorial on the northeast side of the square a salt and pepper haired man looked up at us from the park bench he was sitting on and said wearily, “Don’t be homeless, man.” He then gathered his bag and walked down the sidewalk away from us.
He did not ask for a handout and it all happened so quickly I never even had a chance to consider giving him a couple of dollars. I do not know if his advice was for my son or me. I do not know what circumstances in his life put him on the street. I do know that he did not have the appearance of someone who had been homeless for a long period of time, his clothes were clean, his hair and beard neatly trimmed.
My son and I walked in silence for remainder of the walk to the restaurant. All I could think of was how easily I could end up homeless, really, how anyone could end up homeless today. One missed paycheck, one unexpected twist in life, a car accident, a slip and fall, or a serious illness could put anyone of us out in the streets.
While it is virtually impossible to get an accurate count of homeless people in the United States the numbers from the National Alliance to End Homelessness is probably the best estimate out there.
There are 633,782 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. Of that number, 239,403 are people in families, and 394,379 are individuals. Slightly fewer than 16 percent of the homeless population are considered "chronically homeless," and about 13 percent of homeless adults- 62,619 - are veterans.“Don’t be homeless, man.”
I am certain that neither my son nor I will ever forget that chance meeting with a man on a park bench. I know those four words will be with me forever.