I could see him sitting against the building, about a block away. He was flicking both hands repeatedly. It was difficult to tell where one body part started and one ended because of the dirt that caked his clothes, face and hair.
We were passing out food bags to individuals living on the streets. Usually when we park our cars and begin passing out food, word spreads quickly and people come from all directions. This young man didn’t budge. He just sat, against the building, flicking his hands.
I’ve seen repetitive behavior like this before, sometimes from people that have been institutionalized, sometimes from people with intellectual disabilities (especially autism) and sometimes from people with mental health disorders.
I grabbed a bag of food, 2 small bottles of water and asked my friend Corey to walk with me. As we moved closer I mentioned to Corey the unpredictable behavior we could encounter. But I felt a need to try.
I began speaking to him before we got too close. I wanted to make sure he knew we meant no harm and I wanted to gauge his possible reaction to us.
I asked him if he needed something to eat.
He looked at me with kindness in his face, “Yes ma’am.”
I wanted to talk to him, but I was uncertain of his mental status.“Here is a bag of food and some water.”
“Thank you.” He accepted the food politely.
As I walked away from him I tried to wrap my head around the emotions I felt. He looked young, yet worn and old. He looked kind, yet on the edge of uncertainty. He looked like someone’s son, yet a lost soul walking among strangers.