It began in the County Mall food court. Resting at one of the tables after my lunch, I casually glanced around the place. The food court wasn't crowded, and consequently I had no trouble spotting him: a tall, dark, gray-haired man. He caught my gaze, and started walking towards me. As I took in his gaunt frame, his tattered red t-shirt, and the holes in his great sweats, it dawned on me that before me stood a homeless man. Reaching my table, he asked if he could sit down with me but I declined. I wasn't in the mood to talk to him, and so mumbling a poor excuse and an apology that was probably a few octaves below any decipherable level, and not particularly caring whether the man heard me or not, I got up and walked away. The man called out after me, assuring me that he didn't want money, but rather only someone to talk to. I was rattled by his persistence, and pretending I didn't hear him I quickly walked away, my heart pounding in my chest.
Later that day the incident gnawed on my mind; that I coldly turned down a man who simply wanted someone to talk to was uncharacteristic and appalled me. As I lay awake that night, listening to the rain beat against my roof, my thoughts drifted back to the man at the mall. Was he outside in this rain right now? Was he cold, wet, and hungry? Was he lonely? The thought of him feeling abandoned because of me weighed even more heavily on my conscience. In my first year of high school I suffered through a terrible ordeal that distanced me from my friends for some time. I am familiar with the despair that arises from loneliness, and it made my guilt all the more acute. As I lay in bed, I felt frustrated and angry with myself for acting so callously.
I was eager to apologize to the man and the next day I returned to the mall in search of him. It was all in vain, however, as I could not find him, and the mere fact that I tried did nothing to mitigate my guilt. As days passed my thoughts wouldn't waver from the incident; it showed an ugly side of me I didn't like-a side of me that I was ashamed of. I felt the need to make it up to the person and atone for my impropriety, and I set about to create an organization where I would provide the homeless something I should have provided to that man: attention. And that was how I formed STATH-Students Talking To Homeless.
Through my organization I've 'adopted' many homeless people in Los Angeles and San Francisco. On weekends our members drive to the cities and spend the day with our adopted by taking them out for lunch, helping them carry around their possessions, or even sitting down and conversing with them. Working with the homeless has been a catharsis for me and I feel that I've become a better person because of it. Now...