Stories of Kindness from Around the World

Melvin Off The Streets

--by twocents, posted Feb 8, 2016
[This post is dedicated to my mother, whose birthday it is today, Jan 15th. She has held a lifelong practice of feeding needy people on her parents & children’s birthdays. What’s more inspiring to me is that she did it with so much humility that I never even learned that she was doing this until I was in my early 30s. I love you Mummy, and honor you by practicing the values you have lived by-- which have become my values.]

I heard fervent mumbling beneath the blankets when I approached.

“Melvin, are you under there?”

He pops his head out and let’s out a slightly hysterical laugh.

“Yah- yeah… I was just praying. Praying that somebody would bring me dinner.” That alone was enough to bring a knot to my throat.

“Well, I have your dinner,” I say quietly, “and its warm.”

Melvin had reason to be praying. For most of the last 6 months, I was bringing him one meal a day, either dinner or breakfast. Except in the last month, where travel, a retreat, and doubt lead me to lapse on daily delivery.

The doubt began with an aspiration rooted in humility. I saw a sense of ego or pride growing in me, that I was becoming an instrument for love and kindness to this old man living on the street. Yet if love and kindness is all around us, it certainly has a way of reaching Melvin if I’m no longer in the picture. And he certainly was also eating before I showed up months ago. My service would become a disservice if he became dependent on me. So with that, I because skipping a day or two at random intervals a couple of months ago. 

Doubt grew the day I ran into Melvin one afternoon on my way back from a local restaurant. He was coming out a corner store, and he had a cigar in his mouth. He’d just purchased some incense that he told me had some drug-like effects, and had a 30 something black woman on his arm. He called her his niece, but I suspected she was a fellow homeless woman, perhaps selling herself for something from the store. Melvin was of course ecstatic to see me, and gave me a big hug. He asked me if I needed anything from the store, and literally offered me the shirt off his back, which was donated through a local church clothing drive. I maintained friendly conversation with him, but it made me feel like he was wasting his pension money on vice and that my food offerings were enabling that behavior. That’s why I felt comfortable missing so many meals in December, when street life becomes even more life threatening by chilly and wet weather.

And it was now past New Years.

“Happy New Year!” I say, though the words feel lame even though the sentiment behind them is strong.

“Man, thank you! And thank you for the clothes!! I’m wearing them now… I’ve been so warm over the last few weeks because of them.” They were actually sweats given to me to offer to someone on the streets by a friend a few weeks prior, but that was enough to melt me. 

“I’m sorry I haven’t been around much, Melvin,” I say, and then begin to give my weak excuses.

“Are you apologizing to me?” he asks.


“Well I accept your apology!” he says as he reaches out to grab my hand. “Don’t give up on me. I need help.” And with that he breaks down crying. Its the first time I’ve seen Melvin cry, but it only lasts for about 30 seconds.

“Okay, I’m done,” says Melvin. “But pray for me. I need help.”

“I do pray for you, Melvin. And I’m here to support you. But you’ve got to take a step too.”

As a former BART worker and senior citizen, Melvin receives just over $1000 each month. His goal 6 months ago was to save up enough money to buy a used van. I found one that cost only $3500 and asked him what the minimum was he needed to spend each month. Turns out its only $200 he needs to spend, so it should only take 5 months to save up enough to be off the street. Yet every time I checked in with him on how much he had left at the end of the month, it would always be under $100. Money wasted away on ‘celebrating’ -- which was Melvin’s way of saying drinking, and perhaps prostitutes.

“I’m trying. I got an interview tomorrow,” he says, and then tells me about an institute that may house him if he passes their screening.

“That’s great Melvin! Things will get better if you get out of the cold. I have to be in the office early tomorrow but I’ll check in with you to see how it went.”

That night I offered extra prayers for his well-being and happiness. The next morning, I see him wrapping up his camp on my way to the train station.

“Melvin, you ready for that interview?”

“Yeah!” he says as he approaches to try give me a hug. I keep moving.

“I’ve gotta run to get to the office, Melvin.”

“That’s OK, I’ll walk with you.”

He shares a bit about this and then heads back to his stuff.

And that was the last time I saw Melvin, now almost two weeks ago. Another homeless young man named Sean, who sleeps near where Melvin would, tells me that he’s now in a shelter and awaiting the transition to the home. 

In the end, I’m not sure if the food, or conversations, or prayers, or all of the above made any difference at all. Yet what is certain is that these last few months have changed me profoundly. I no longer fear homeless people, regardless of whether they are quiet or loud, sober or intoxicated, clean or dirty. I no longer eat without feeling the hunger of those on the street. And I no longer feel hopeless in the face of their enormous challenges, bowing to the mysterious forces that awaken when we can touch others through our hearts.
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Readers Comments

jemimainjapan wrote: I really enjoyed your story. I found your description of how you debated with yourself about what type of giving would be most appropriate to help melvin but not enable him heartening. It is a difficult balance to strike, and i struggle with it too. I am glad that in the end, you found that the result didn't matter so much as the effect the kindness had on both of your hearts.
melgall1983 wrote: What a lovely story :)
mish wrote: Powerful ❤️
mindyjourney wrote: wow! continued postive thoughts for Melvin in his transition to a home :)). Birthday blessings for your dear mother and the values she instilled. Thanks for sharing, my friend.
horsegirl21 wrote: thank you for sharing this story
melnotes wrote: Bless you and all you have done xx
jsmc10 wrote: all of the acts made a difference, built up a sense of trust. I hope he has a good transition to a home and a job etc :)
splain wrote: Your mother is spectacular. Her wonderful efforts did make a difference. Who knows when we give what happens to that person. Your mother took that extra step to connecting with Melvin. YOu must be very proud of her
kjoyw wrote: This is so powerful! Thank you for your kindness, carrying on the traditions of your mother, and for sharing this with us!
leoladyc728 wrote: I truly hope that Melvin gets the help he needs. You were very instrumental in his turn around. i believe he felt someone out there cared for him and that he needs to care for himself too.

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