Nearly 600,000 Americans are currently experiencing homelessness.
According to the New York Times, that number is far from perfect. Collecting data on homeless populations requires tons of volunteers, flashlights, and navigating potentially hazardous conditions.
The reasons Americans end up on the streets or in shelters vary widely, but, whatever the cause, it is truly heartbreaking to see someone struggle. It’s even worse if the struggling person was someone you once mentored, as one teacher shared on social media.
They Were in a Bad Part of Town
The Original Poster’s (OP) day started off normally. Her college-age daughter had a doctor’s appointment that “happened to be in a horrible part of town.”
While the pair were in that area, OP’s daughter asked if they could stop by Starbucks. On the way, her daughter quickly changed her mind though and suggested the dive burger place nearby instead. OP joked with her, saying, “Sure, let’s get a burger and maybe a shot today. I’m game!”
Some “Divine Intervention” Occurred
When OP and her daughter arrived at the burger, they passed a homeless man who was “so pitiful looking and smelling.” The man took OP’s breath away and made her apprehensive.
He tried to get OP’s attention—she wondered if he was perhaps on drugs. OP got the feeling that something bad might happen and wrote that the man appeared to be “strung out on something.”
The man continued his attempts to get OP’s attention until, finally, OP relented. They made eye contact, and OP greeted the man. He then said to her: “You were my teacher; do you remember me?”
OP Had a Flashback
Turns out, she did remember. It took a while, but it finally clicked. She still couldn’t recall the man’s name, however.
“I’m 54 and been at this for over three decades,” OP explained in her post, “I had him in first grade, and my daughter was one year ahead at the same school.”
The man started talking with her. He told her that he was homeless and had just gotten out of a drug and mental rehabilitation center. Seeing her former first-grade student barely college-age now and struggling so much made OP “sick to [her] stomach.”
She Wanted to do Something to Help
Overwhelmed with emotion, OP watched the young man walk out of the burger place. She then turned to the employees working there and asked if the man had ever caused any problems and if he’d eaten that day. The staff answered “no” to both questions.
OP felt compelled to go back outside. She found the student and asked if she could buy him lunch.
He Didn’t Have Any Track Marks
It seemed the small gesture moved him. OP wrote: “Next thing you know, he is showing me his belongings, and that is all he had.” He showed her the lack of “track marks” on his arms.
Track marks are small holes or scars in the skin that “are often the clearest drug addiction signs,” explains the Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center.
These marks indicate intravenous (IV) drug use—typically the result of poor healing and wound care combined with dull or dirty needles. Because her student’s arms were clean, OP was comforted that he wasn’t using IV drugs.
Unfortunately, IV drugs aren’t the only form of substance abuse. After revealing his unmarked arms, her student admitted that someone had given him pills.
He Admitted to Not Wanting The Shelter
OP immediately went into “teacher/mom mode.” She discovered the drugs and told him he couldn’t use medicine someone on the street gave him. OP also talked to him about a contact she had with the homeless services in town.
Her student didn’t want to enter a shelter. He preferred being on the streets. “That’s when it hit me he was truly on something,” OP wrote.
She really wanted to “fix him right there,” but recognized that his issues were greater than the “Band-Aid” she had.
She Decided to Buy Him a Meal Instead
Accepting the reality of the situation, OP took a breath and thought about what she could do. She took him inside and ordered him a meal. While eating, she continued to talk to him. She told him he had to be nice and respectful to everyone there. He thanked her repeatedly and hugged her.
OP asked him to take care of himself and find a safe place to sleep on the streets that night.
They Were Both Emotional From The Experience
When OP was walking away, a few kids sitting at a nearby table leaned over to ask him who she was. As OP was getting into her car, she looked up and overheard him telling the kids, “That was my first-grade teacher,” with a massive smile on his face.
OP kept it together long enough to wave goodbye. Once in the car, she told her daughter that she “was going to lose it” when they pulled away.
She Wished She Could Have Done More to help
Her daughter reassured her that she did everything she could and that she shouldn’t feel guilty. “But damn,” OP grieved, “he is only 19 and has been homeless awhile. It just sucks he was born into a sh**** environment and was not able to climb out of it.”
As a teacher, OP had the habit of telling her students that they were her kids and would always be her kids. “So today, he is still my kid,” she wrote, “And I got his belly full, and he smiled.”
This article, Teacher Ran into Former Student Who Is Now Homeless, was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching. Reddit source.
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