We had met about 6 months ago on the sidewalk outside the downtown YMCA.
He approached me on that occasion with a fist full of papers, including an unused bus ticket to El Paso. He told me he had just been released from the hospital, but had missed his bus. He would need a small amount of cash to reschedule his trip on the same ticket. I provided him what he said it would take to use the ticket.
About a month later I encountered him again at the same spot on the sidewalk. He held in his hand the same documents. He told me the same story, complete with tears and desperation.
When I told him that he needed a new "play," he looked at me with bewilderment. I reminded him that he had used the ploy on me already. I chided him a bit by suggesting that at least he take his game to a new street corner. That last encounter sent him away up the sidewalk.
Only two or three weeks later, I observed him running his scam on some other person at the same spot.
Last Tuesday evening as I left the YMCA to head home with a growing case of the flu, he appeared again.
This time he was limping.
He had a stack of paperwork indicating that he had been bitten by a dog and had received treatment at a local hospital.
At first I was very unwelcoming.
"Don't game me, man," I told him without hesitation in a self-righteous tone. "We've had this conversation now three times," I reminded him.
I explained to him that I could hear anything, but I wouldn't stand still for some concocted story.
He showed me his leg. He made me read the papers. Clearly both his condition and his dismissal papers were legit.
He also shared with me that he had applied to live "in the building across the street," CityWalk, our downtown housing development. He was on our waiting list to get an apartment.
His request was simple: he needed $7.00 to spend the night in a local, downtown area shelter.
I handed him a $10 bill.
He continued to cry.
Then, he grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and said, "I need to tell you something, sir."
"Okay," I replied.
He struggled to get the words out. After several minutes of effort to battle past his embarrassment and shame, he chocked out his confession, "Sir, the reason I do this, the reason I lied to you before, is, well, I have a terrible heroine addiction. I'm hooked bad and I can't find no treatment."
He told me of his attempts to escape the hell his life had become. He cried. I tried to reassure him that we would try to help him in as many ways as we could.
As we parted, he on the way to the nearby night shelter that has sadly become the permanent housing for far too many, me to the safety of my home to fight off the impending flu, I thought about how different our lives were and how much the same. Our needs were fundamentally the same. Our opportunities and assets quite different.
He lied to me on the sidewalk.
He told me the truth on the same sidewalk square.
I expect we'll meet again. The story is not finished.
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