There was a homeless guy who stood on the median near my go-to grocery store.

We met by intentional (his) chance (mine) when I slowed down for the red light, and he enthusiastically waved hello. My dog Mellie was checking him out and started wagging her tail as he approached us. Since Mellie is a far better judge of character than I am, I waved back to indicate the car window wasn’t going up. Nor was I going to look through him as if he didn’t exist.

Obviously, the man was panhandling for money to survive or maybe to fuel a habit. At that moment, it didn’t matter because he was cheerful, and I couldn’t help but smile back. Up close, I saw he wore a name tag that read “Mitchell” and was sporting an old-school plastic pocket protector with a few pens sticking out.

“Hi Mitchell,” I said. “I don’t have any cash (which was true) but I have a granola bar and an orange I didn’t eat at lunch. You’re welcome to them.”

“Thanks,” he said back. “But I want to give you a friendship bracelet. I made it.” With that, he handed me a stretchy circle of colored beads and I handed him the granola bar and fruit. Allowing myself a moment to hope he’d have a safe, dry bed that night, I let out a sigh of relief. Yes, I was full-on relieved Mitchell didn’t want to rub white girl privilege in my face with a heart-breaking sign or a defeatist persona. Instead, he smiled again and handed me a friendship bracelet.

For those of you living under a rock, friendship bracelets became cultural accessory icons as Swifties (fans of superstar Taylor Swift) made and exchanged them with fellow fans and strangers at each stop during her record-breaking ERAS tour. It’s even reported that Travis Kelce, Swift’s famous NFL football beau made one for her with his phone number written out in numerical beads. It caught her attention and according to the tabloids, they’re still going strong. But romance aside, friendship bracelets are a whimsical gesture, and I drove off feeling good about our swap.

Mitchell was a fixture on the median for weeks after our barter. We would wave, Mellie would wag, and while I wish this vignette had a happy ending, that’s the full-stop extent of it. He didn’t approach the car and I didn’t beckon him. We stayed in our own lanes.

In fact, I didn’t think about Mitchell at all until last week when I saw the 25th season premiere of Law and Order: SVU. The victim was an abducted fifteen-year-old girl, and the only clue was a friendship bracelet she tucked into the seat of the bad guy’s van. She wanted to escape. She wanted to be safe. But most of all, she wanted to be with people who cared about her.

I realize I’m teeter-tottering on sanctimony but come on my people. Let’s give our unhoused a break. Do you honestly believe any mentally/emotionally healthy person prefers the streets over Maslow’s most basic hierarchy of needs?  Yes, we have elected officials to address the situation, but to benefit which segment of the population?

Keep a box of granola bars under your seat and if you’re rebuffed, be kind. Reserve assumptions and ask how many paychecks away you might be from a median of your own. And if not yourself, someone you may know.

I spent most of last night making friendship bracelets that say Mitchell, so let me know if you want one. As always, thanks for reading, enjoy your meal and reach out anytime.


Natalie Haberman Ladd is an award-winning columnist who puts her ADD diagnosis to good use. The proud mother of two millennial daughters, Natalie enjoys a codependent relationship with her dog Mellie, who came from Mississippi to rescue her. Reach out:

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