I, like most people who live in the city pass by them and shake our heads no when asked if we have any spare change. Without eye contact.
The other day though, I was the only one climbing down the stairs at the subway from the Y when I heard the homeless man at the bottom say hello to me. Not wanting to be rude and not acknowledge him (I was the only one in the stairwell) I said "hello there" with eye contact and a smile. Nothing much.
What he said to me after breaks my heart.
As I was walking away he says,
"Thank you for that beautiful smile. You have a great evening and a Merry Christmas."
That breaks my heart because the tone of his voice was "whoa, someone actually said hi/looked at me. Not treating me like I'm an eyesore and a bother.
After I told him to have a good day as well and got on my train to come home I kept thinking that's all they want (other than money)...to be acknowledged. For someone to smile at them.
So homeless man at College Station. From now on I, when I pass a person who is down on their luck, I will smile at them and say hi more often. It's the least I can do to brighten their day.
Thanks for giving me that lesson.