“I don’t need no free lunch,” Winston said. “I can buy my own. I just come here for a shower.” Angry, he got up, shouldered three huge garbage bags bulging with cans, and walked west towards downtown. I rushed to apologize, saying I hadn’t meant to offend him, and offered him a ride. He declined. Hours later, I saw him miles away on the west side of town, still carrying his bags to a metal recycling center.
This excerpt from City on the Verge ends Chapter 6, “Mansions and Cat Holes,” which mostly covers issues about homelessness in Atlanta. I was volunteering at the Open Door Community on Ponce de Leon Avenue. I hung around outside before they opened the doors for a free lunch featuring turkey with all the fixings. I struck up a conversation with Winston, who was also waiting. He lived at a homeless shelter in town. When Winston declined a ticket for the lunch, I told him I knew it was going to be really good, and hey, it was free. That’s when he got angry with me, as I wrote in the excerpt above.
I realized that what human beings need, whether they are wealthy or homeless, is a sense of dignity and their own independence and choice.