Are We Our Brother's Keeper?

It’s 37° F (2.7° C) and dropping. It’s going to hover near freezing tonight, and come midnight… flip a coin - head’s it rains, tails it’s dry. And he’s out there.

I know he’s not my responsibility. But isn’t he?

There’s a big guy that’s homeless here in Lawrence. You know him if you’ve lived in or around downtown Lawrence. The guy’s really big. He started hanging around South Park shortly after the Salvation Army closed their shelter. We noticed him hanging out early in the morning and in the evenings. It wasn’t long before we put two and two together. He’d taken up residence. At least over night.

As the temperature started dropping, he and the other few souls that would spend the night in South Park on the benches, in the gazebo, or under the stairs at the gazebo started disappearing. I assumed they’d found shelter somewhere warm, or moved south following the warmer temperatures. Tonight, as it warms up to a balmy 37, he was back.

We noticed him earlier this evening as we walked the dogs. Meg pointed him out as we started in to South Park. He was headed down the red-bud path. As he got closer, we could see the two pieces of cardboard he was carrying. My heart went out to him as I realized what he had done. He’d scavenged up some insulation for the night to come.

Continuing on our walk, he milled around South Park some more. As we finished our loop through the park with our dogs, I saw him lumbering off back toward downtown. “Well, maybe he isn’t spending the night in the park,” I reassured myself and didn’t give it another thought. Meg and carried on our evening, including some pizza and beer at the Oread and a Jayhawks game.

Walking back down the mountain tonight, I couldn’t help but scan the park. The benches were all empty, as was the gazebo. Maybe he had found a spot in the shelter. Then I saw under the stairs. His unmistakable girth, under a pile of blankets, huddled up against the gazebo.

I quietly motioned to Meg. Our banter, lively all the way home, died.

After we had passed the gazebo I said, “I know he’s not my responsibility. But if he isn’t mine, who’s is he?”

I don’t know what I could have done. I don’t know his story. Could I approach him, or is he unstable? Why’s he homeless? Is it a “lifestyle choice”, as certain organizations would have you believe of the majority of Lawrence’s homeless, or is he one of those guys who just had one too many blows and hasn’t been able to get back up?

I wonder though, what is my responsibility? What is our responsibility? If you believe in a higher power, when he comes asking “where’s the big guy?”, are you going to respond “am I my brother’s keeper?”, or will you response “I am my brother’s keeper, he’s over here”?

Want to help?

Head over to the Lawrence Community Shelter website. They can use cash or supplies.