With my fellow Utah-based Forbes Contributors on Thursday evening I enjoyed a lavish dinner at Cucina Toscana downtown Salt Lake City, just a few blocks from my home.
As I walked past the Rose Wagner theater on Broadway, I saw a homeless guy apparently sobbing and begging as the patrons filed out of the show. My reaction wasn’t any different than the theater patrons; I thought he was putting on a pretty good performance.
Nevertheless, having walked past him, I felt impressed to turn around and ask him if he wanted some food, to which he responded, “I want some money to buy some food.”
Again, I asked, “Do you want some food?”
Sensing, I suppose, that he wasn’t going to get any money from me nor from the theater patrons, he said, “yes.”
We walked a few blocks to McDonalds where he ordered three cheeseburgers, a large milk shake, two fruit pies, and a sweet tea.
As we walked toward the McDonalds and while we waited for the order to come up, we visited. He started his story by saying, “Have you ever met a mental health patient?” He didn’t wait for an answer before continuing, “Well, I am one.”
He went on to tell me his name was Andy. His speech was hard to understand. That was partly due to a cut in his mouth that he said he got from eating garbage from dumpsters.
He said he had two daughters, ages six and nine when he last saw them. He split with his wife, he said, when he found her doing drugs with the girls watching. The girls, he says, are now in foster care in Seattle.
When I asked how old the girls were now he said he didn’t know.
“How long has it been since you saw them?” I asked.
Andy also explained in ragged detail that didn’t provide anything like a complete narrative how he’d been kicked out of the homeless shelter for a benign reason having something to do with bed bugs.
As we waited for his dinner order, he asked me to wait and talk to him. I agreed and we visited for about ten minutes until his order came up.
As we waited and chatted the night manager emerged from the back of the restaurant; Andy greeted him like they were old friends. The night manager responded, clearly recognizing Andy though not calling him by name.
When the food came up, I helped him get it all to his seat. I then explained that I would now leave. He got angry, displaying a sense of feeling betrayed.
It was an awkward moment for me. I said, “I’m sorry that you don’t think this food is enough, but I have to go.”
And, I did go. I went home to my high-rise condo to sleep in my sumptuous king size bed with my beautiful wife.
The next morning I arose and went for a run. Near the end of my run, half a block east of the Rose Wagner theater where I’d found him the night before, I found Andy outside of the Peery Hotel eating what appeared to be a fresh, hot breakfast burrito.
As I ran by, I yelled, “Hi Andy” and waved.
He responded with a quick “Hi buddy.” He seemed much happier than I’d left him the night before, but I’m not sure he recognized me.
Later that morning, I was walking along Main Street and passed the relatively sheltered entrance to the old Utah movie theaters between First and Second South streets, a favorite spot for the homeless to camp for the night. I noticed a cheeseburger still in its wrapper and a small pile of McDonalds wrappers, including two empty cartons for fruit pies.
As much as I felt I’d done for Andy I can’t help but think I should have done more. What do you think? What more should I have done for Andy?