Justin, the homeless man on 23rd Street

Justin is a man, but almost a boy, or at least he looks more like a boy when you get up closer. His beard is deceiving, his big worn hands are deceiving, his homeless status is somewhat deceiving. On my first go around, I saw a dark head tilted down into a jutting collarbone, dwarfed by a large cardboard sign that said, "Anything helps" (anything helps, need work, I am trying to pull my life together, please) I made it three stores down before I turned back. When I addressed him with my perky and sunny "Hi" he immediately looked up. Direct and sober and if one ignored the cardboard sign and the slightly grimy fingernails, normal, like you and me. I gave him a banana and he slipped it into his pristine backpack, and immediately asked if I knew anyone hiring. I tell him that I work in a salon, a place that requires training and experience (and stability, but I don't say that word out loud). We talked for ten minutes about how tough it is to find work and no I can't relate to being homeless (crashing on friends' couches certainly does not qualify) I can somewhat relate to how hard it is to be out of work. That initial feeling of liberation that quickly turns into staving off panic as a wave of “what ifs” threatens to break. And if a man, an unemployed man living on the streets, wants to get a job he must look clean, presentable, not dodgy or filthy. And so Justin wears his hair shorn and maintains his beard and grooms his fingernails. He's serious about finding a job. But. Yet. When he sits in the street with his cardboard sign and his open palm he is ignored. Like he is too clean-looking, too young, too "put together" to really need charity. He tells me about the young kids with the patchy beards and the greasy long hair who rake in the big bucks because who doesn't feel sorry for a homeless teen who could benefit from a hot shower? And I see an unpleasant side of Justin as the diatribe gains steam and volume and the resentment is glaring.