I was driving down North Avenue early one morning several months ago when I saw the homeless guy who lives in front of Sears. I have seen him hobble (don’t know if the hobble is real or an act) asking drivers for donations. I have seen him get money or food from strangers. One of my friends who is also a pastor once had extra box lunches and took the homeless guy one. She learned a very hard lesson when he asked her what kind it was because he didn’t eat just anything.
Anyway, it was a beautiful, warm morning and the homeless man leaned back in his spot, ear bud in his ear, doing the routine many of us are now so familiar with. His hand hovered over the screen to his phone and he was busy punching away at it. Even from my car, I could tell it was a smart phone and he was either playing a game or texting away. I have to admit, I was both shocked and amused at the sight. Shocked, because the man has been homeless and begging for money for years. Yet he obviously has enough dollars to purchase a phone and pay to keep up his basic service. Amused, because the smart phone is so intuitive that he has learned to manipulate it apparently without classroom instruction. Data rates on a phone are very expensive, so I wondered if he was also using Sears Wi-Fi as his “hotspot.”
Days later, I again saw him lying back enjoying a movie. I had my smart phone at the ready and snapped this picture of him. I posted it to Facebook and the responses I got were typical. Many defended his right to have a phone.
“It could be an Obama phone” was posted quite often. Every excuse that can be given about a man who prefers to live on the street and beg for money was made. And yes, even a few comments were made about my “insensitive nature” for having taken the photo and posted it in the first place. Not being a wimp, I defended my right to point out what many prefer not to see. The man may be homeless, but he still will pay for what he wants (smart phones and foods to his liking) while begging for his needs — money.
I thought back to that day when I was reading an email. Here is what was written:
“As many of you know, Curtis Jackson has been panhandling around North and Harlem for many years. He’s the guy you’ve seen sleeping in an alcove in the Sears wall facing North Avenue.
“This morning’s hearing had to do with Sears’ charges of trespassing on store property. At the last hearing, Curtis inadvertently admitted that he does trespass by occupying Sears’ property outside the building.
“Unfortunately, Sears never showed up for the hearing. We were told this has happened more than once before.
“However, Curtis pled guilty. He was sentenced to pay $270 within the next 12 months and to stay away from the North/Harlem vicinity for the next year. If he violates this court order, he can be arrested immediately.
“From now on, if you see Curtis in the North/Harlem vicinity, please notify the police. This could be 50 yards from the intersection in any direction — Chicago Elmwood Park, Oak Park or River Forest. Explain that Jackson is violating a court order. It’s probably best to call Oak Park Dispatch: 708-386-2131. (They’re not as busy as Chicago police most of the time.) On weekdays, try beat Officer Shatonya Johnson: 708-613-1794.”
Please take a position on this situation because in my next column I will use it as a metaphor.