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Doing better this time

October 10, 2010
By BARBARA WALLACE HUGHES, Messenger managing editor

Not all hauntings involve spectral sightings.

Sometimes our own inactions - pushed to the back of our brain - are unexpectedly triggered and resurface to nibble at our conscience.

When I lived in Minneapolis during the 1980s, I worked downtown and often spent my free time walking around the heart of the city. It's hard to recognize one person when there are so many people in crowds. But I remember one man.

He wore a dirty, khaki-colored Army surplus jacket. All the time. Summer and winter. It was one of the few things he seemed to own. He carried his belongings around in a big, black garbage bag. When the weather turned Minnesota-bone-chilling-cold, he spent his nights sleeping on the giant sidewalk grates that spewed out heat.

I never spoke to that man. But I saw him time and time again.

It's easy to come up with reasons why I didn't start a conversation. Maybe he would have felt I was invading his privacy. After all, he might have been dangerous - a violent criminal or someone whose unstable mental state might have seen me as a threat.

Or, it might have been embarrassing if someone saw me trying to talk to him and passed the same kind of judgment on me that I was passing on him. It's easy to avoid homeless people and pretend they don't exist - to walk past them without a glance.

But they're real people, and they live right here in Fort Dodge.

Earlier this year, I started seeing a man downtown who seemed to be living on the streets.

My mind flashed back to the vision of the man with the khaki jacket - the man I never spoke to, the man I never did anything to help.

This time, I think I behaved better, if not admirably.

I began saying hello. Sometimes, we exchange brief pleasantries, maybe talk about the weather. I know his first name. I asked a pastor friend of mine, someone familiar with many of the local social services programs, to talk with him about options.

It's getting colder, and I'm worried about where he'll be sleeping this winter. He knows about the Beacon of Hope Men's Shelter, the emergency homeless shelter Steve Roe and his board of directors are working to get up and running.

But in order for the Beacon of Hope to be able to do all it needs to do - especially with winter approaching - it needs more help from all of us. The Beacon of Hope doesn't receive any government funding; it relies on the monetary generosity of this community and the efforts of volunteers.

I'm going to write a check. It won't be the biggest check the shelter will get, but maybe it will help this man and others like him to eat better, sleep safely and take the first steps toward self-sufficiency.

This time, I have to do something.

Barbara Wallace Hughes is the managing editor of The Messenger.



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