Meeting Susan, the street beggar, Part 2

Last week I wrote about meeting Susan, a street beggar in Portland when I spent four days impersonating a homeless person. But not really. Because I wore nice clothes, was mostly clean, and had money for food.

Last week I ended Part 1 with the promise that I’d return to Susan to ask how she got into this predicament. I planned to buy her an iced tea to break my twenty dollar bill, which would give me smaller options to drop in her donation cup and would demonstrate my generosity.

When I rounded the corner on Exchange Street, Susan smiled and waved, “Hello Molly!”

“I was going to buy you iced tea, but I see you already have some.”

The Holy Donut is generous with me and lets me have coffee or iced tea with unlimited refills. Do you want some donut? I haven’t touched them.”

Suddenly my ‘large’ twenty-dollar-bill deflated to the size of a postage stamp, and I accepted the donuts with a lump in my throat. How could I refuse? They were lemon glazed.

“Yes,” she laughed, “sitting here has its hazards. I can’t eat all the donuts people give me, and I feel guilty throwing them away. If I sit eating donuts all day, I’ll get fat. If you hang out in a barbershop, eventually you’ll get a haircut.”

I asked her if she’d be comfortable telling me how she came on hard times.

She said, “Simple. I lost my job and couldn’t get another one. I got behind in my rent; Then I sold my car, and eventually got an eviction notice. I couch surfed for a while, but that got old, so I went to the shelter. It was scary because some rough characters stay there. I got on the waiting list for the women’s shelter and liked it better. But like I told you earlier, I would get fed up with the drama, and leave, then go back on the waiting list and do it all over again.”

She said she had hope that her luck would turn and life would eventually get easier for her. I asked her where she found her source of hope, thinking perhaps she had a profound belief in God or some deep spiritual beliefs.

She said, “I lost my only son in 2013 when he died of a heart attack and my brother died that same year. I almost died last summer when I was in the hospital for 43 days. What else can go wrong? Things have to turn around for me.”

I told Susan I write a blog and she gave me permission to tell her story and post the photo of us. She took my card and said she’d leave a comment when she sees this post.

I dropped my twenty-dollar bill in her cup, wishing I could deposit the full amount for Susan’s dentures. She thanked me and made me promise to stop and see her when I’m in town.

As I was leaving, she said, “I almost forgot. One of my friends started a ‘Go Fund Me’ account to raise money for my dentures called, ‘Help Susan Smile Again.’ Maybe you’d like to tell your blog readers about it.” Consider yourself informed.

Despite Susan’s openness, I walked away with more questions than answers.

How many of ‘us’ could become one of ‘them’ with a job loss? Susan seemed well-adjusted; Are there more like her, or did I hit it lucky? Did she know my weakness for donuts would yield a higher donation for her or was she just being nice? Could I ever bring myself to re-gift potato donuts to a stranger? How long before I complain about going to the dentist (Answer to the last question: 4 days.)

What are your questions?

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37 thoughts on “Meeting Susan, the street beggar, Part 2

  1. Great interview! I’ve been unemployed and it’s scary. There’s the stress of the job interview and desperation for someone willing to give you a chance. I hope things do turn around for Susan.

    • I’ve been laid off but it was a minor inconvenience compared to what Susan went through. I think it would be very stressful to have time stretch on without a prospect. Glad your situation resolved, Pam. Thank you for leaving a comment.

  2. In this world of bad politics and media “Lets only show negatives,” this is such a touching thing to do. Homeless people are just like anyone else; they have a life story that contributes to where they are now. The story here is something most overlook too; how close is anyone to where Susan is now? How long can you last with no job, rent arrears, sudden ill health, depression and isolation, a bad divorce… We really should never take where we are for granted and show some kindness to those having bad times. This is flipping inspiring so whack it onto the SundayBlogShare and I, for one, will climb all over it.

    Truly a human story. Really appreciate you sharing this.

          • Good for you, and pass on the inspirational way your posts have been received.

            I think I have yes, my brain recognised the title. I’m not sure if I commented though so I’ll go and double check. Memory is not as effective as it once was!

  3. Susan sounds like a wonderful human being. Society needs to be less judgemental of the homeless. It’s only by the grace of God that many of us aren’t out on the streets.

    • She does have an apartment at this point, Linda, but a pretty meager existence nonetheless. I hope she can get her dentures. It’s got to be hard to get along without teeth. She is indeed a lovely lady.

  4. Our US homeless population is staggering in size. Susan’s story shows how tenuous life can be, if events conspire to cause great hardship. The merry-go-round of shelters and institutions is hard to imagine. I wonder how Harvey will affect the homeless living in Houston, or how it may cause more homelessness. Sigh…

    • It is sad but true, Terri. And I believe we have the resources to solve this problem if applied correctly. I cannot imagine living like that and Susan told me ‘No one wants to live like this.’ The Houston disaster is mind boggling.

  5. Great story Molly I hope Susan gets her dentures and things turn around for her. What a remarkable upbeat woman!!

  6. Molly, homelessness has become very personal to me this year. My daughter left her husband, and was unemployed. So she and my babies had to be in homeless shelter. Thank God she is employed now, and we live together, so they have a home.
    But for the grace of God go I, is such a true statement!

  7. Wow. As my late father used to say, “There but by the grace of God, go I.” Like you, I’ve spent thousands on my teeth over the years and my heart aches for Susan. I do hope she manages to quickly secure the funds for her dentures and can’t help but think that it was “meant” for the two of you to meet.

    • I hope she gets her dentures, too, Kelly. I can’t imagine going without teeth and feel so bad for people who are thrust into that situation without the money to take care of this basic need. I felt happy to meet her and I’ll look her up when I go back to Portland.

  8. Wonderful post, Molly. Most of the people I know are one paycheck or one illness or one major expense away from joining Susan and the many ordinary people who find themselves homeless. We don’t think it will happen, and then it does. Thanks for sharing Susan’s story and raising awareness.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. It is true. So many are one crisis away from sharing Susan’s fate. It’s not comfortable to think about it and easier to turn away from this reality, thinking it only happens to someone else.

    • Thank you, Suzette. I do think that is true. Statistics don’t mean anything until there is a face and a personal story backing it up. And so many of the marginalized are invisible or judged as causing their own problems.

  9. Molly, as I said last week I give you a lot of credit for taking the time to speak and interview Susan. When you are on your own I am sure it is easy to slip from the working poor to the homeless poor. And now that Susan needs teeth it will be even harder for her to find employment. I will go over to her Go Fund Me Page and make a donation and pray that it is used for teeth.

    • Thank you so much for making a donation, Bernadette. Seeing the GoFundMe page reinforced to me that Susan was as genuine as I thought she was. It will be harder for her to get a job without teeth and I am also praying she gets enough money to get them. I’ll keep you posted.

  10. Oh yes – ditto delphini510! A lovely inspirational piece Molly and I so hope that Susan gets everything she needs to have a more comfortable life. This just shows that anyone can slide down the comfort scale because of job loss and losing the loved ones who may have supported you. Although I am not religious at all, bible quotes I heard as a child often come back to me and this made me think, ‘judge not lest ye be judged’. It’s far more productive to help while keeping an awareness of yet another bible quote from my childhood, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. Well done Molly for sharing this in such a sensitive yet humorous way.

    • Thank you, Gilly. Susan opened my heart and mind in ways that reading statistics cannot do. Judging others is a dangerous business, and Jesus had it right when he admonished us to refrain. I’m looking forward to reading your story of meeting up with a homeless person in your blog. Thanks so much for the comment. XO

  11. Hi Molly and Susan, together you have made a wonderfully inspiring story. How so you ask?
    Well, you have shown how kindness and positivity can grow in so many situations in life. Well done Molly for doing this interview and Susan, I really hope you get money for dentist and an abode of your own.

    miriam

    • I truly hope she gets her teeth, too, Miriam. I have spent thousands of dollars on my teeth through the years, and people who are poor cannot do that and don’t have access to dental care which makes me so sad. It also makes me sad I’ve spent so much money on mine, but without it, I’d be begging for money for dentures, too. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Miriam.

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