I have a homeless friend named Keller.
I’ve wanted to write about him for a while now, but I’ve been paralyzed with the knowledge that, no matter what I say about him, I’m somehow making a statement about homelessness as a whole, or else making myself sound overly altruistic (which would be misleading; I’m really not very altruistic at all), or perhaps perpetuating naive stereotypes about homelessness, and I don’t really want to do any of those things. I just want to write about Keller.
On most weekdays, Keller stands on the street outside my building selling the Street Zine, which is a monthly newspaper some of the homeless people in Dallas contribute to and sell for one dollar.
They could really use a copyeditor, but I don’t think they want my help.
Dallas has strict panhandling laws that prohibit citizens from giving money to those asking for it. But I really like how the Street Zine has found a way around this law. It’s sneaky and subversive, and I like sneaky, subversive things, especially when what they’re subverting are heartless Republican laws.
The first time I met Keller, I was taking home some On the Border food from work that was leftover from a luncheon meeting. I had intended to have it for dinner, but when I walked past Keller on the street, I gave it to him on impulse. It just seemed like the rational thing to do. I have food at home, and he does not, because he does not have a home.
We chatted for a bit that first time, just pleasantries, really, then he thanked me for his food, and I went home to my food.
The next day he was there again, so I began striking up conversations whenever I see him.
I like talking to Keller because I noticed that most people try to pretend he’s invisible.
But he’s still a person, and he looks me in the eye when he talks to me.
When a new issue of the Street Zine comes out, I buy it for a few dollars, and Keller tells me which pages to read. He is genuinely interested to hear what I think about the articles, and though they’re pretty unreadable, I usually tell him I enjoy them.
Yesterday when I passed Keller in the morning, he was looking very rough. His beard was scraggly and he had things stuck in it. He told me that his landlord kicked him out, and he was back to living on the street, so he slept behind some generators the night before. I believed him because he smelled like the inside of a belly button.
The memory of his smell stuck with me for the remainder of the morning and made me nauseated. Even now, as I type, I’m feeling nauseated again.
But when I passed him on my way to lunch, both his head and his face were cleanly shaven. He said, “See, I’m putting to good use the money you give me.” I agreed that it was, indeed, good use, mostly because he no longer made me nauseated.
Keller sometimes smells like alcohol, oftentimes early in the morning, which I suspect must be the root of his problems.
But I don’t ask about it because it’s really not my business.
Last night I told Boyfriend about Keller, and he called homeless people “freeloaders” and said that giving a homeless person money is the worst thing I can do. I’ve heard this opinion before, but not from Boyfriend, who is one of the kindest, most considerate people I know, and it surprised and upset me.
I cried a little bit, and Boyfriend felt bad. I told him I think homelessness can be a cycle that’s difficult to get out of, and we both agreed to research the matter a bit more.
There’s probably a lot I don’t know about homelessness, which is why I didn’t want this entry to be about that.
But what I do know is that Keller is my friend, and friends help each other when they can.
Someone might say that Keller doesn’t help me back, but that’s not true. He helps me by saying “God Bless, Sweetheart” to me every day, regardless of if I have anything to give him that day.
And, because he really means it, that’s more than enough.