I was hired at a retail store at the same time as my coworker Ryan* back in June. He is a middle-aged gentleman with a clean appearance and usually has a smile on his face. He had just moved to Portland after taking a train up from Los Angeles because “the ticket was only $150, so why not?”. He had worked for the same brand before and came off as a well rounded guy. A couple of weeks later, I heard my boss talking to a manager about how Ryan wouldn’t be able to come in because of some issues he was having and then I didn’t see him on the sales floor for two weeks. Then one night, after work, my coworkers and I decided to go to a bar a couple of blocks away and through the conversation I learned that Steven was, is, homeless. I was shocked just because I suddenly felt so bad about the time I told him to try Masu, an upscale sushi place downtown. I felt weird because I knew that he had two undergrad degrees. I felt odd because he never mentioned his housing situation to anyone. But I realized that I felt off because I had stereotyped homeless people and Ryan didn’t fit that stereotype. He was educated, social, well mannered, well groomed, none of which made sense to my boxes that I put people in. It made me realize how anyone I encounter could be suffering from any sort of economic or personal problems and that I should work harder to exercise empathy and throw aside my judgement of others. In addition, it made me realize how petty my issues must be in comparison to others. At least I know I have a bed at the end of the night and know where my next meal is coming from.
Ryan’s returned to work, but it makes more sense now. He always brings his giant backpack into the breakroom and utilizes the refrigerator highly. I’ve also noticed that he only has two pairs of shoes. But aside from that, he’s like everyone else. He’s hoping to get a scholarship from PSU to get a Master’s in writing, which is his true passion. He’s made me realize that I can’t assume stereotypes from anyone because that’s robbing them of their identity. Talking to him and hearing his story (which is incredibly long but wonderful, he told me over a shared lunch break) has been an eye opener for me and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.
*Name changed because while we’re friends and coworkers, it would still be inappropriate.
August 19, 2018