His name was “Rescue” he told me, as he was being asked if he’d pose for a photograph. “Sure” he said. It was last Friday night in downtown Portland, Oregon and a dozen of us were escorting my niece’s husband-to-soon-be around for a bachelor party. The streets were filled with people, but Rescue walked quietly by as if he were a ghost. We were laughing and having a great time when I spotted him.
His head was bent in the familiar deferential and shamed position that the homeless learn so quickly- how to be non-threatening so as to protect their most vulnerable self in a scary and loud world. When I offered to give him my standard rate of a dollar for a photo of him, he steadied himself, straightened his sign, and concentrated very hard to do his best as an impromptu street model for me.
I took the photo quickly and was simultaneously taken aback at this most humble man before me. “You seem like a good and kind Man, Rescue,” I said. “I am. I am,” Rescue replied while nodding with his head still bent.
“I want to give you another dollar and take your photo, Rescue. But this time I’d like you to smile. Please, okay?” Without a word from him, he broke into a grin, relaxed and showing just a slight flint of a spark of what was once probably a roaring fire of a very good man at one point in time…somebody’s son, brother, father, cousin, neighbor, or friend. If not for a turn or two in Life, he may have been joining us in our diverse group on this bachelor party celebration evening. Who knows?
I thanked Rescue and moved up the street to catch up with the guys. Two nights later, a transient in N.E. Portland had a small fire keeping himself warm under a bridge when his sleeping bag caught fire as he slept. A passerby driving nearby saw the flames, ran up to help put him out, and called 9-1-1. At last report, the man was in critical condition and probably won’t live.
I hope his name is not Rescue…but then again, would it really even matter? America can do better than this. I believe this to be true. The chronic homeless like Rescue represent only about 20% of all the homeless, but they deserve a safe place to lay their head at night, along with basic air, water, food, and shelter.
Check out Rescue’s second photo below. Sometimes all we can offer is “Hope.”