If you're ever in the east Lincoln Park neighborhood, you've probably seen Jacky. He's a big guy and difficult to miss. But who is he? What's his story?
Every day, on my way to and from work, I pass by the Clark and Belden intersection. There are many people who stand around asking for handouts - but they're clearly not homeless (there's a group home just down the street for those of you who aren't in the know). Sometimes, though... sometimes... you'll see someone early in the morning, sitting on the park bench on the southeast corner. He's a large man, quiet, unassuming.
One day, as I was passing by while running an errand for work, I glanced at him and it was one of those moments: we made eye contact. "Shit," I thought. I was in a hurry. I didn't want to be bothered and I didn't want to feel guilty about it. He quietly mumbled, "Spare some change?" and I did what most people do. I pretended I didn't hear him.
I walked another 10 feet then stopped. I turned around and walked back.
"What's your name?" I asked him. "I'm Jacky," came the soft reply. I apologized for not being able to help at that moment but I told him about The Pink Bag Project. I asked him if he thought he could use some socks, toiletries and fresh fruit. He nodded emphatically. "Oh yes, yes, please! I feel so dirty and I really want to wash up. You have no idea! Yes, please! And the food would be real good, too!" We parted ways with my promise to return with a few things.
Today, we met again. As promised, I brought a bag of socks, facial wipes, hand and feet warmers, crackers, peanut butter, fresh fruit and a toothbrush/toothpaste combo. Jacky's face lit up with a beautiful smile. Seated next to him was a nice guy who'd decided to just hang out and visit with him a while (don't underestimate the power of such a simple act - I can't begin to tell you how many times I've been thanked for sitting and chatting with someone who's homeless). And Jacky had some good news to share of his own. On Thursday, he'll be moving into his own apartment! The guy sitting next to him, Josh, had paid for him to stay in a hotel one night and he has a place to stay for a second night. That means he's only got to be out in the cold for two nights until he gets to move into his new place - I'm thrilled for him.
Jacky's been homeless for the past four months. He's never been homeless before, other than one time when he was a young boy, and he says he wouldn't wish it on his worst enemy. These 117 days have been demoralizing, frightening, and they've tested his strength in more ways than he ever imagined possible. He shook his head and looked at the ground as he explained how embarrassing it was to be looked through like he doesn't even exist by so many people every, single day. I told him about my own experience of losing everything and about my wonderful friend, the inspiring Dawj Sangster from The Six Brown Chicks, who knows a whole lot about what it's like to be homeless and broken of spirit. We, and many others like us, are living testimony that anyone can find their way out of a horrible crisis if someone just cares enough to say "Hey, you're another human being. I see you. Now, let's see how I can help you help yourself."