Allen Landers introduces us to Vernon

Susan EspirituDowntown, Our Town Neighbors

We are definitely in a crisis both globally, nationally and locally with national estimates of over 600,000 individuals experiencing homelessness with 8% of the homeless being veterans.

My friend Allen Landers walks daily along the University of Tennessee campus and he shared an awareness I felt compelled to pass along.

I am recounting Allen’s experience in his words

“As I crawl into my nice safe bed to go to sleep tonight, I am thinking back over my day. It was a good day overall, but I am thinking about a man named Vernon I met while we were walking on campus today. I saw him coming towards us and had a feeling he was homeless and looking for help. He politely said, ‘excuse me’ as he basically just said can you help me out without having to do my song and dance. I couldn’t help him the way he wanted help. My wallet was locked in my truck back in the garage. So, I just started talking to him and shook his hand. He apologized for his hand being dirty, but here’s the thing that shook me. He thanked us for talking to him. He said we were the first people who didn’t just ignore him and walk past him and actually talked to him.”

This is only part of Allen’s experience with Vernon. Think about that statement and how heartbreaking it is. We all have relationships where someone talks to us every day. Vernon and all the other Vernons out there who may have no conversations with anyone during the day, but pass by people who are consciously avoiding them, appearing scared of them, or openly disgusted by them, but not offering to talk to them.

So, Allen and his companion talked to Vernon. Vernon’s story could be anyone’s story. Vernon is from Knoxville. He graduated from a local high school. He’s living in his car. He has filed for disability. He’s waiting for the state to approve it so he can get some money to live on.

Allen says, “He may have been playing me. I don’t know. I just know that while I am crawling into my bed, Vernon is parked somewhere in his car and is hopefully safe for the evening.”

Allen gave Vernon a hug as they left to continue their walk, and Vernon said he didn’t remember the last time anyone had hugged him.

I know the next time I see someone that appears to be a Vernon, I am going to think of Allen Lander’s experience, and hopefully of Matthew 25:40 “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

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