Homeless woman, in bitter cold, returns kind gesture with unexpected concern

Post by Jason Plotkin

She practically begged me not to take her photo.
“They’ll beat me up and take my spot,” she said to me.
The woman was tiny and looked older than I’m sure she was. She was wrapped in her clothes to keep warm and stood next to a cart filled with some more of her personal belongings.
I had moved past her early this morning on my way to take photos of people shoveling out from last night’s snow. 
She was standing inside of a building and looked tired and cold.
I got a few photographs of what I needed of people in the snow and came back toward her on the way to my car.
 At first she thought I was trying to kick her out of the building. That’s when I told her I worked for the York Daily Record.
We talked for a few minutes. She told me she had been in there all night since the snow started. Not sleeping. Just sitting.
She was trying to keep warm and waiting for the bank to open so she could get money to pay for her room in the motel where she was staying. 
At the time we were talking, it wasn’t even 6 a.m. She had a wait ahead of her before the bank would open.
I don’t usually carry cash with me. I asked her if there was anything she needed.
“A hot cup of coffee and a steak and egg sandwich,” she said to me.
I told her I’d be right back with her order and she told me she was just joking.
I wasn’t.
As I was walking out the door, she said, “I like the York Daily Record.”
I laughed and said, “Me too.”
When I came back with her order, I was also carrying an old blanket I kept in my car. I asked 
her if she wanted it. She did.
We talked a little more. She told me life had been like this for her since the York riots in 1969. She didn’t trust the shelters. She liked where she was, in that stairwell.
“It’s warm and it’s free,” she told me.
I asked her about taking her photo without identifying her or where she was staying. I explained to her that part of what I do as a journalist is shining a spotlight on problems and maybe this could help her.
She said no, then said, “No one wants to help me.”
I wished her well and began to walk away when she said, “Please don’t be mad at me.” I was taken aback with her concern for my feelings.
I laughed again and told her I wasn’t. I hear “no” certainly more than I hear “yes” in this business.
I know that as journalists we can help with the larger issue of homelessness. I believe in journalism and the good it can do by bringing awareness to this ongoing problem. But this morning, in this stairwell, she wanted no part of journalism.
She just wanted to keep warm and have breakfast.

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10 Responses to Homeless woman, in bitter cold, returns kind gesture with unexpected concern

  1. Amazing story, touched my heart. Just yesterday I posted on fb that we need to think about the homeless people in our communities who have no place to go in this weather. You were truely this persons angel today.

  2. Robin Trump says:

    God bless you! Even the smallest bit of generosity for the homeless, I’m sure goes a long way. I have given blankets, but wish I could do more. I pray each night for the homeless. Maybe in reading this article there will be many more people willing to help those in need.

  3. Jason, what a fantastic story but an even more fantastic moment! So sad but so touching. I’m sure this woman will not forget your conversation, caring and listening ear as I am sure you will not forget her caring and understanding of you. Thanks for sharing this with the rest of us….generosity and caring happen everyday, not just on holidays!

  4. eva boyer says:

    So glad she had had breakfast and coffee and was able to stay warm your kindness made her day

  5. Laura Marshall says:

    I have a spare bedroom, in case you see her again.

  6. charles says:

    Was this in the PHILADELPHIA ST Parking Garage stairwell?

  7. AnneMarie says:

    It’s heartbreaking enough to be without stable housing and even worse when (more often than not) your only help is a shelter, which are rarely safe for women.

    Thank you for reaching out to help her the best way you could; if we all did our part, we could erraticate homelessness.

  8. cheryl says:

    Far too often we hear of the callousness of the media, far too often we see people turning their heads; as if we are far above the misery that could strike us at any moment.
    This story makes me proud of YDR, but especially of you Jason. Beautifully and sensitively told, your article teaches us all a lesson. Inspiring and heartbreaking, yet one small gesture can make a difference if only for a little while.

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