Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: Homelessness up close January 14, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , ,
The homeless, photographed in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, in June 2018 near the state capitol. The wings on the side of the Wisconsin Historical Museum were part of a temporary art installment, “Pink Flamingo Wings.” But I viewed them differently, as symbolic, as angel wings of hope for these two men. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only and as documentation of homelessness.

DAYS LATER, THE SCENE still haunts me. The scene unfolding in my neighbor’s yard at 8 Sunday morning, just across our driveway and up a small incline.

Only minutes earlier, I turned on the radio, tuned to KDHL for the worship service at Trinity Lutheran Church. As I listened, I spooned coffee grounds into a filter, filled the reservoir with water, then switched on the coffee maker to start my day.

Typically, I would be in church, worshiping in person. But, since the start of the pandemic, Randy and I have opted to stay home and listen to services either online or on the radio. It’s not my preference. But it’s my comfort level.

As I listened, I lifted the dining room shade. It was then I noticed him. The man outside a massive dumpster set in my neighbor’s driveway. At first I thought it was my neighbor, but soon realized this was a stranger, who had now climbed inside the dumpster. He rummaged methodically through the contents. Picking up, then dropping stuff. Tossing. Sorting. Moving items.

I watched mesmerized. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive or uncaring. But I felt momentarily stunned. This was a first—a presumably homeless man in my neighborhood. I felt helpless, wondering what, if anything, I could or should do. I worried that he may not be warm enough in his maroon hoodie layered under a heavy plaid flannel shirt jacket. I noticed he at least wore gloves. I worried that he may not have food. I worried, too, that he may not have shelter, a warm place to sleep in the cold of a Minnesota winter.

A Good Shepherd stained glass window inside Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

So many thoughts filtered through my brain as I watched while simultaneously listening to hymns and Bible readings and a sermon about Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Words that invited me to hear the voice of Jesus, to support, encourage and uplift others, including those in my community.

By my lack of action, I wasn’t exactly following that directive to live out my faith. I failed miserably. Because I did nothing.

I thought of phoning the non-emergency police number. But what would I say? That I felt concern for a man rummaging through a dumpster? That seemed a faulty plan since the individual had committed no crime. And what if the police came and the scenario quickly changed to something ugly. I’ve read/heard of that happening all too often. Not here. But as nearby as the Twin Cities metro an hour distant. I wouldn’t risk that.

And so I found myself at a loss. Approaching the man seemed unwise given COVID, concerns about my safety and so much uncertainty. I drank my coffee, ate my cereal in the warmth of my home. Sheltered from the cold.

After nearly 45 minutes, the man climbed out of the dumpster and onto his fat tire bicycle. He coasted down the street, turned the corner, then pedaled away. Empty-handed.

TELL ME: What would you have done? If this ever happens again, I want to feel prepared, perhaps have a plan of action to help. I’m open to suggestions, even to specific resources available to assist individuals like this. Thank you.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “From Faribault: Homelessness up close”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    Your “dilemma” is a valid one in the abstract and disturbing in reality. When faced……actually ‘faced’…..with such a happening what is the ‘right’ response. This brings to mind the (one of the opening) scene in Sheldon’s book “In His Steps” when, in the midst of Sunday morning worship, a man enters to church, walks down the aisle to the front and presents his case. He’s down on his luck, not well, disheveled and seeking assistance of some type. He leaves as quietly as he had come but in his wake he leaves many witnesses to this occurrence with a lasting memory that results in much soul-searching ……. and a movement that would impact beyond not only the walls of the church but beyond that little town! WWJD—–What Would Jesus Do. When the question is posed, the answer must be one that has resulted from God-seeking moments and must not be judged by others as to its appropriateness.
    And so ends my response to you query….however, this leaves a great impact on me, also, which I continue to ponder. Blessings in the New Year and prayer for us all…………………

  2. Maybe, you were meant to see it, learn and to ask questions. The universe has strange ways to get us to see ourselves unravelled. What a better question would be what would you do if you were in the homeless person’s situation?

    I do know.

    Not approaching in a time of COVID is smart but the homeless are like each of us.

    Contact with other humans who try to understand the situation, maybe provide a cup of hot coffee, a ride to a shelter or asking if they have a warm place to stay.

    The homeless person will either answer in return with kindness or will not believe you have seen them and start to cry (mental health is a huge issue for those who have been out on the streets for a long time as are trust issues).

    One can only do what one can do in that moment.

    Be prepared if you help to see it through many of the issues that surround our homeless population are not issues that can be solved quickly.

    Lastly ask in your community what resources are available and how the community responds with programs.

    I am guessing that this will not be the last time you may see homeless individuals or families this year.

    I hope this helps a bit for your next encounter or observation.

    • Thank you, Paula, for your suggestions. I researched help for homeless individuals locally before writing this post. It’s available, albeit somewhat limited here in rural Minnesota. In hindsight, I wish I had offered at least a cup of coffee.

      You are correct about many of these individuals dealing with mental health and or addiction issues, which calls for kindness, compassion and options. It’s a complicated and difficult issue. And, yes, homelessness exists even here, outside the metro.

  3. I am so grateful in that you share your insight and make us ponder (i.e. learning lessons, what would I do, etc.) and bring us back around to kindness. One thing I do (about twice a year) is do a clean out of clothes and household items and donate to a local charity. Also, in working for a not for profit community health system there are many ways I give back to the community I live in through my working world. You DO a lot for your community, especially through your blog and sharing your writing to bring about awareness (i.e. homelessness, domestic violence, mental health, etc.). Your post made me think of someone I knew that usually had a tote of food in her car and if someone was looking for a help up (never called it a hand out) she would give them fruit, snacks, juice boxes, etc. Take Care 🙂

  4. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    You did right. The risks are many, the possible rewards even riskier at that moment. I might have grabbed a camera, tried to get a picture for if there is a next time. We joke about dumpster-diving, but of course it exists. Jumping into one is no small matter. And he had a bike. I would doubt he’s completely homeless, more possible with mental issues. Probably known to officials. Work with professionals, call trained police, they aren’t all muscle men. The non-emergency line would take your input as a probably “homeless” person, send a counselor to keep you company, offer what help there is, not call out the guard. Probably come with food. Amazing what food can calm. We have Washington Cty Resource Ctr connected with our church, providing cold weather shelter in the gym and so much else. The bins are overflowing with donations. Rice County must too. You did right. Keep your distance.

    • I’m thankful Washington County has those resources connected with your church. Based on what I know, resources are much more limited in Faribault. I doubt a call to the non-emergency phone line would have resulted in the type of response you suggest. But I suppose it’s possible.

      I considered taking a photo. But I just could not do that. As I reconsider my lack of action, I think perhaps had this man been on my property, I may have handled things differently. In any case, I now have lots to ponder going forward. I appreciate the input I’m getting from readers like you who obviously care. Thank you.

  5. valeriebollinger Says:

    Very interesting story. I’m not sure what I would have done but I like The Cedar Journal’s suggestions. It’s a good thing to think about before it happens and have a plan.
    That said, often we pass a homeless person on one route we take to the cities. Each time I forget to bring along food or vouchers for that person…my intension is good but that is the road to failure right?

  6. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    That’s a hard one Audrey. You are such a sweet soul, I’m sure it was hard for you to watch this. I may have just prayed for this man…sometimes that’s all you can do.

  7. Norma Says:

    Before I gave up my car, and no longer drive any more, I used to carry gift cards for local fast food establishments, and when I saw someone that was hungry, I would offer them a card. They were always thankful. I have encountered people sitting outside a restaurant, before Covid-19. I was with one of my daughters at the time. She invited the man to come in the restaurant with us. When someone came to seat us, she told the server to seat the man, and give us the bill. I was so proud of my daughter, and the man responded with tears. If you are in a location that you felt safe in, these are some ideas.


  8. Margit Says:

    Thanks for posing this dilemma. As I have thought about it, I decided that were I presented with this situation, I would assemble a bag of bread, carrots, apples, box juice (food I have on hand) and include contact information for the Community Action Center and their Food Shelf. I would greet the person and say that I am leaving the bag next to his bike.

  9. Audrey, you are such a kind soul. It doesn’t surprise me that this touched your heart. I’ve been in similar situations and it’s such a difficult situation to be in. I don’t believe in giving money to street people, but I have given food. Bless you, sweet lady. ❤

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.