Yesterday, I was driving in this little town near the Ohio borders and there’s this bridge at an exit of off I-70 to Lewisburg, Ohio. As I was passing under it, I saw this man, dressed in a red shirt, navy pants and a baseball hat. He was standing right at the ramp folding up a big plastic wrap and I immediately knew that he slept under that bridge and he used that plastic wrap as his blanket.
I didn’t really care too much as I was just thinking that may be he was just passing by, and that may be he was just hitchhiking and he couldn’t get a ride so he decided to sleep under there. However, later on in the afternoon on my way back, I saw him again but this time he was walking with a lot of stuff on his back towards the same spot under the bridge. Then I realized that he’s someone who might have been stranded. In America, if you don’t have a car or money for a Greyhound bus, it’s nearly impossible and dangerous to hitchhike. It’s even illegal to walk along side any highway trying to hitchhike.
I then turned around, it’s hard to make a u-turn there, but I did manage to turn around and came back to the bridge, put on my emergency lights and got out. It’s an awful place to stop since it’s right at an exit ramp. If a cop had seen me, I would have been cited for stopping there. I then walked behind the ramp looking for this man but I couldn’t find him, so I yelled out at him. And he yelled back from behind the concrete cave-look like. I politely yelled out asking him if he needed a ride anywhere, and came out towards me and said that he could may be go west. When he said that, I realized that he was homeless and he had no specific place to go.
He was smiling; very polite and friendly. He was referring to me as “sir”, which further made me realize that not only that he’s polite but also courteous, and kind, I’m thinking that he must be a veteran, as not too many civilians address normal strangers as “sir”.
I then told him that if I came by tomorrow and if he’s still there, that I’d give him a ride and take him anywhere he wanted to go. I reached in my pockets to see if I had any cash, but I only had $2 bills, so I gave them to him.
He was so happy, very thankful, he was speechless. I then said goodbye and I left. As I was leaving, I just couldn’t picture him sleeping under that bridge in a dusty and noisy Interstate highway, especially the noise from heavy vehicles, trucks. I just broke down crying, it’s very sad to imagine someone to live and sleep under that scary dark bridge perhaps with no food, while I was comfortably driving with a full stomach.
I turned around and started looking for a place to buy some food. I found KFC about five minutes away, and I went in and bought (I went and got more cash) a full box of chicken and then I went to Speedway, a gas station, nearby and bought a large Sprite lushed in ice-cold mug.
I then drove back to the bridge, it’s very dangerous to stop there, as there are intersections and exits right under the bridge. But I stopped on the side ramp as I did before, and I put on the emergency lights and I got out. I walked up, climbing up the concrete under the bridge. I could see his shirt, laying under his makeshift concrete cage.
I yelled out at him; telling him that it was me again, and that I brought him some food. I asked him if it’s okay for me to come near and he screamed out in excitement and said yes. I continued toward him while I was explaining to him that I got him some chicken and cold pop.
As I was coming near, I could see his whole makeshift cage and on the other side of his belongings, there were two large 2-litter Coca-Cola bottles, half empty. I could tell that he has lived under there for a very long time. When I looked at his stuff and bottles of pop, I told him that I was sorry, I said: Oh, you got something to drink already, but this one is colder. I then handed him the plastic bag with the box of chicken, and even before I handed him his drink, he already started digging in the box of chicken, feeling the chicken how nice and warm.
He was so happy. I reached out my hand to shake his hand while I introduced myself, and he politely reached out his hand to meet me halfway and introduced himself, telling me that his name is Matt Cooper.
I asked him if he wanted a ride tomorrow anywhere and he said he’s really tired; he’s 56 years old. I sadly said goodbye and left him there. When I drove by this morning, he was still under there and when I returned in the afternoon, it was raining, pouring down heavily and he was still under there, laying down. You have to actually know that he’s there, otherwise you’d pass him without ever noticing that there’s someone under there.
And if you are wondering what race he is, he’s African-American, good looking guy with some missing teeth.
In America, there are many shelters for homeless people, but most of them, although they provide adequate and generous warm meals, bedding wise are not designed to offer personal comfort of property ownership right. That feeling of having your own place and the bed to sleep on any time whenever you want, without anyone telling you to get up.
Most shelters have nice single beds, but they are all laid out in a large open, hall-style space and anyone, the first one to come in during the evening hours, may get to have the bed. Have you seen the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)” by Will Smith?
And even though having a bed in a nice and warm lighted place is better than sleeping under the cold, dusty and noisy bridge, one has to sleep with his belongings, all tied to your chest and you better not tell anyone what you actually got, because when you fall asleep, anyone could steal your stuff.
And to make it worst, in the morning when you wake up, you must take all your belongings with you. There is no bed ownership and there is no place to store your stuff. When you come back the next evening, you may get a different bed depending on how early you get there and only if there are any beds left.
If you are trying to find a job while staying in a homeless shelter, then you have to take your belongings with you to your job or job interview every morning because there’s no place to leave or store your stuff.
That’s why some homeless people prefer living the way such as how Matt is living, under the bridge. Under that makeshift concrete, cold, dusty and noisy bridge, he may feel at peace, no one is stealing his stuff and no one is waking him up early to leave and return at the certain time, as if he was staying in a homeless shelter. Under that bridge, he has no curfew, he has complete property ownership right.
I am sincerely feeling so much pain deep inside, just the thought that Matt is out there, sleeping under the bridge; he has no electricity, he has no running water, he has no toilet room, and no nothing. My heart just can’t rest not knowing whether he ate today or not.
In America, yes we are just now coming out of the Great Recession, but no one should be homeless, no one should go to bed hungry, and definitely, no one, not Matt Cooper or anyone else, especially a Vet, should sleep under the cold, noisy, dark, and dusty unsanitary bridge.
May be you can join me and help find an apartment and get it paid up for a year in advance and give it to him so he can rehabilitate having his own space with running water, bathroom, kitchen and most of all; it’s his own, by himself.
If you are interested in helping Matt find a home, please contact me now.