There is a man sleeping on an abandoned couch across the street from my house. I walk by him as he sleeps, an older man with grey hair and beard, sleeping in a fetal position, knees drawn to his chest, hands between his knees for comfort or warmth or both. As I walk by I turn to my wife and ask, “Do we have an extra blanket we can give that man?” Perhaps we could give one to him when we finish with our walk. She thinks we did in our blanket closet, filled with an assortment of comforters.
As we continue down the street I wonder, why wait until we finish our walk, why prolong this man’s suffering any longer than necessary? The night air is chilly, even in sunny Los Angeles, surely we can inconvenience ourselves enough to bring this man a small measure of comfort first?
I keep all of this questioning inside. We arrive back at our front door and go inside to retrieve the blanket we had discussed. An ugly blanket, thin, covered in a garish design. An unsolicited gift from a relative. I bring it out to the man while my wife watches from our porch and lay it on his feet while he sleeps. I don’t want to wake him, and I don’t want to patronize or scare him with a surprise covering. He’s a grown man, not a baby, let him accept the gift if he wishes but not be coddled or condescended to by the likes of me.
I walk back into our house and am confronted by the open door of our spare room. I can see straight into it while sitting on the living room couch, a room for guests, one we hardly enter. And there, across the street for our house, is a man sleeping on an abandoned couch. The solution seems so simple, so obvious and tenable. A homeless man, an empty room. What could be easier? I long to ask my wife if we might simply invite him in for the night out of the cold. But how can I ask her to take such a risk? Bring in a stranger, a complete unknown? It’s not right to put her in such a position, force her to say no by making an unreasonable request, be the bad guy, the ungenerous one.
I rail against economic inequality. I share with her various clever ideas to address this homelessness crisis, how unfair it is that there are so many in this city with dozens of empty rooms, and so many on the streets in need of them. But it is our own excess that confronts me, our one spare room and this one man on the street. It’s not an idea, or a clever solution, it’s a person, a human being sleeping across the street without shelter, without a blanket, and it is an empty room with a bed, waiting for an occupant.
We sit in silence for a few minutes, this unasked question between us before finally going to sleep for the night, us in our bed, and him on the couch across the street.