I spent last week backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation and taking a break from the media that so dominates modern life. Passing by Sisters, Oregon, on my way to the trailhead I notice backpackers hitch hiking back to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) after resupplying in town. On my way back to Portland after my wilderness hike, I noticed a young man with a backpack looking for a ride. Assuming he was a PCT “through hiker” on his way to the Canadian border and looking for a ride back to the trail, I stopped and picked him up.
The young man thanked me for stopping and introduced himself as “Tony.” I soon discovered that Tony was not a backpacker, but a “traveling man” who was on his way to Portland! I had planned to listen to my audio book, “Dead Wake,” about the sinking of the Lusitania, on my drive home, but now I found myself with an unexpected opportunity. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with having Tony in the car with me for the next three and a half hours, but I decided it was a divine appointment and was determined to make the best of it. Perhaps I could be helpful and maybe share about the Lord.
Tony, 28 years old, had been “traveling” for the last three years. I discovered that “traveling” meant he was, what most of us would call, “homeless.” His parents had divorced and he had not seen his dad or mom for some years. Tony had the smell of cigarette smoke on his clothes and a faint scent of alcohol on his breath. He confided that he struggled with “anxiety issues.” Over the next three hours I got acquainted with Tony. During our conversation, I asked Tony some questions that he was more than willing to answer. His answers gave me new insight into the lifestyle and experience of homeless people.
How do you feel about your lifestyle? “I love it! I have hitch hiked all over the United States.”
What concerns do you have? I really don’t have any worries.
Have you ever had a job? I had a job for about two weeks once. I didn’t really like it.
Would you like to change your life for a more stable situation? No, not really.
What about food? People give me food. I hang out by a restaurant and people bring out their left overs in a little box. Often they are willing to give it to me. I eat when food is available.
Where do you sleep? I have a comfortable sleeping bag and I sleep in the little nooks in front of stores. The owners don’t mind.
How about bathrooms and showers? There are shelters where I can get a free shower and wash up. It isn’t a problem. I don’t like shelters because that is where the Meth heads go and they steal from you.
What about health? Can you get medical help? My grandmother said she had never paid a medical bill in her life. There is really nothing they can do to you if you don’t pay. I do have free medical insurance from a state where I lived for a while. They still carry my medical insurance.
How do get along without a mailing address? I can use a library computer for email and Facebook. If I need to get a regular letter, I can give the address of a shelter and pick up my mail there.
Do you have a phone? Yes, my aunt got me a free phone from the government. I can only use it to make calls. It doesn’t work for Facebook.
Can you go back home to California where your dad lives? No, if I do, I’ll probably be arrested and jailed since I have skipped court appointments in the past. Someday I’ll take care of it. I was jailed in Florida for three months for possession of some pot. Jails give me anxiety.
Do you do drugs? I tried meth, but that is bad stuff. Meth people are grimy and bad. I would never use heroin. I won’t stick a needle in my arm. I use pot and drink beer. I have tried to quit drinking but keep going back to it. I need to go to a place to get help with my addiction. I got sober in jail, but later started drinking again.
How do you get your money? People give me money. I hold up a funny sign and make people laugh. A guy in Las Vegas gave me ten dollars and said, “You made me laugh.” Most of the people in Las Vegas are drunk and give you money.
Why are you going to Portland? I have friends in Portland and the cops are nice. My friends look out for me and don’t steal from me. The cops in other places I have traveled are mean. They will tell me, “Get out of town now or we’ll put you in jail. Just keep hiking up the road.” I had an “open container” in Portland and the cop just shook his head and turned away. Usually, they make you pour it out. Here they are nice.
Where are you going after your time in Portland? I am planning on going to the Oregon coast and then maybe to Seattle.
What about your spiritual life, Tony? Do you believe in God? Yes, I believe in God. I think he looks out for me.
What do you think about Jesus? Have you accepted him as your Savior? I am not sure that Jesus is God. I have accepted him many times when people ask me to.
Do you have a Bible? I have a copy I can give you. I don’t have room in my pack for one, but I can get a Bible if I need one. People are always offering me a Bible.
Before we arrived in Portland, I said a prayer for Tony. He seemed appreciative. He asked to be dropped off on Hawthorne Blvd. where he hangs out with his friends near the Safeway store. Tony is a homeless, traveling man who seems to enjoy life as it is. He is just one of many like him hanging out with friends, sleeping on the street, accepting free food, free money, free medical care and a free phone. He doesn’t have ID and, of course, pays no taxes. Portland has become a magnet for people like Tony, who appreciate the friendly atmosphere, lax law enforcement and easy living on the streets of the Rose City. Amazingly, Tony is my neighbor! He living today on Hawthorne Blvd., a little more than a mile from my house.
I am not sure how to help someone like Tony. He likes the way he is living and is not interested in a lifestyle change. Giving him money will, by his own admission, go for cigarettes, booze and pot. He doesn’t want to go to a homeless shelter because of the kinds of people who hang out there. Perhaps the best we can offer Tony is a ride, a prayer and a listening ear. And maybe few granola bars. That’s what I did for Tony yesterday.