Sunday, March 30, 2008

I might have done something really stupid tonight.

I was at the car wash tonight because, if everything goes well, I might be buying a new car tomorrow. That has nothing to do with the stupid thing, though.

So I was vacuuming out my car, and there were these two kids digging through the trash cans for aluminum cans. I couldn't hear them (because of the vacuum), so I just assumed they were young environmentalists who were planning to take the cans to recycle. It isn't farfetched - this is a college town, after all, and I've seen stuff like that before.

Well, after I finished and I was closing my doors, the boy came up to me and told me they (they were brother and sister) were trying to get together enough money to spend the night at the Salvation Army (they don't have a shelter here, but they do have a situation kind of like the YMCA in all those old movies).

Now normally, I'd just say "I'm sorry" and move on, or I'd say, "No, but let me buy you dinner." But something (and I have to think it was the Big Guy) told me that these kids were different. I honestly didn't have any money, though, so I asked them to stick around while I went to the ATM (I didn't tell them that was where I was going, of course).

Well, I went and got them some money, and when I came back, they were gone. Turns out the owner of the car wash chased them off, and they went over to the gas station a little ways up the street (thank God I saw them). They didn't want to take the full amount I was offering ($40), but I gave it to them anyway. I also got some of their story. It seems that the long-term shelter they were staying at in Lafayette closed, and that there were no spaces in any other shelters there (for those of you in PA, think...Johnstown when you are trying to conceptualize Lafayette in terms of size. A city, but a very small one). They decided to come to Baton Rouge (as did a about 12 other people - they all were given free bus tickets, though these kids had their parents' van...but I'm getting ahead in the story).

Well, they went to St. Vincent de Paul when they got here, but they wouldn't take both of them because the girl is still a minor (she's 17). I asked them how they ended up homeless and it turns out their parents died last year. They couldn't continue to get Social Security payments for the girl (I'm guessing because her brother doesn't have legal custody - he's only 23 and doesn't have a high school diploma, so he doesn't have any kind of a stable job), and his job wasn't enough to pay their rent, so they ended up on the streets. The guy said that since they had been here (Friday) he's applied at all the fast food places and stores along the main drag in my neighborhood, but it's hard to find a job without a permanent address and when you haven't bathed in several days.

I got the sense that there was more to the story that they weren't telling me, but there was an air of truth about them and and their story. The didn't look addicted, and I didn't smell alcohol, and I could see inside their van that every thing they owned in the world was in there. In addition to giving them some cash, I pointed them in the direction of a youth shelter here. He's too old to stay there, but she can, and they will help her get her GED if she wants it, and to find a job and all that good stuff. If she can stay there, he can stay at St. V de P, and maybe they can help him find a stable situation. I also gave them my cell phone number, and told them to call me if the youth shelter couldn't help them.

After I did my grocery shopping, I drove by the shelter and I saw what looked like their van parked on one of the side streets. I realized that I didn't know what to tell them if they did call me, so I e-mailed the director of pastoral ministry at St. Al's CCC and asked if I could send them her way if they call. I would normally have directed them to my church, but frankly, we don't have the kind of resources the CCC and the Catholic Church in general have here.

I don't know if I did the right thing. For all I know, they took that cash and went to their dealer somewhere and are getting high as I type this. But I honestly don't believe that. Even though it pains my little bleeding heart, I'm savvy enough to know that most people are just giving you a sob story. But I really did get a good vibe from them. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear that I should help them. I don't know.

So maybe I got taken advantage of and enabled an addiction. Or maybe I gave a break to a couple of kids life has treated pretty shabbily. Only God knows, I guess.


1 comment:

tomzgrrl said...

I think you did the right thing -- because if this was a boost that those kids needed, the good outweighs the bad that $40 would give toward an addiction.

God *does* know -- and I would have trusted my instincts, too.