Age has granted me the clarity needed to comprehend something that has plagued my understanding since I was very young. Even as a six-year-old I remember watching people hurt. I remember watching those hurt people turn away and push away those people they longed to be close to.
I understood, as a teenager, that the reason for this was primarily fear of rejection. Never short on hubris, or words, I have attempted to open their eyes to the fact that they hold the power to end their own pain and the pain of others by reaching out to them. I have achieved varying degrees of success, understandably. I need people to understand that they can change everything by turning toward people and sharing their fears and passions. That by sharing our fears and passions we open the floor to others to do the same, bolstering them by our courage.
What age has finally granted me is the knowledge that reaching out to others when one is afraid requires a profound amount of courage that most people cannot summon. And, that when a person (of any age) can and does summon the courage, one must act to recognize it for what it is, no matter the outcome.
At first glance I hardly noticed her. Nothing was distinguishing about the girl. Perhaps 16-17 years old she simply looked plain and simple in appearance and attire. Instinct told me to observe for a moment, something wasn’t right. Instead of moving toward the bus, she stayed back along the fringe of people waiting. Someone asked the time as he pointed toward her wrist. She turned away, head down. I realized how obvious this situation was as one observation led to another.
It wasn’t long until it became clear she was waiting for something else, not the bus. As I looked closer her clothes were not tattered nor was she unkempt. What bothered me was that unlike most girls that age she wore no makeup, no jewelry, nothing to identify her. She carried no purse, no bookbag or backpack, she simply folded her arms in a protective or concealing way. As I approached and spoke she was clearly scared and constantly scanning the cars approaching the intersection. Again she was clearly waiting for someone.
I identified myself as a police officer and encouraged her not to be afraid, however, I needed to ask a few questions. I called for a female unit to assist in hopes she would be more comfortable. After calming and reassuring “Mari” we discovered she had no identification, did not know her address, or even what neighborhood she lived in. Not a single coin or folded bill in her possession. Finally, Mari offered that she had been working and missed her ride.
To cut to the chase, we learned Mari was previously living in a homeless shelter when she was offered work and housing by a nice woman she had seen helping others at the shelter. Mari and two other girls had been taken in approximately two months earlier but she had lost sense of any specific time. Mari described the single room several girls were sharing. All of her identification and few possessions were taken. She recited the rules she was given and explained how scared she was of the man and woman in charge of the “apartment”. The girls were emotionally abused and physically threatened. All were told they would receive their identification and possessions once housing debts were paid and they were relocated. Mari felt her only chance was to cooperate and accept the labor tasks as assigned.
There is much more to this story however this clearly was a case of a young woman being held captive, enslaved, and waiting to be trafficked elsewhere. This is one example of human trafficking targeting homeless and vulnerable young women and teenage girls. This situation may have been resolved however these investigations are far-reaching and seemingly never-ending. Any suspicious activity such as described should be reported to the Department of Homeland Security and the “Blue Campaign” for immediate response and investigation.
Please take the time to learn how human trafficking operates and warning signs to look for. Resources are available through several federal and local agencies including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs (ICE), local Police Departments, and Victim’s Assistance offices.
Utilize these “Trafficking Indicator Resources”, and if ever in doubt contact: National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733)
Every time I see someone panhandling, sleeping on the street, or hitchiking with a large pack my heart catches. I think back to my long hours of waiting at bus stops in the cold, snow, and rain. I sat watching hundreds of cars go by with only the driver inside. I was resentful then and still often feel guilty if I drive anywhere alone in my minivan.
I watched the people pass by as I sat. I was hungry, tired, cold and wet. I never asked anyone for anything, but I wished desperately that someone would offer me a kind word, a snack, or a ride. I imagined sliding into a warm car and being driven in comfort before being dropped off close to my house. It rarely if ever happened.
I know what it feels like to wonder where I would sleep at night. I know what kind of desperate obsession hunger becomes when you can see others eating things you cannot have. I can easily disregard the choices that may have led people to the point where they are now: standing with a cardboard sign. I simply see a person suffering, that could benefit from any kindness.
Nowadays I rarely carry cash. All my income is direct-deposited and I don’t often need cash. In those moments when I see someone who is so very much in need, I often wish I had something to give them.
I have recently hit upon an idea I am excited about: care packs. The concept is simple; you buy a box of zipper bags and pack them full of small items that a person living rough or down-on-their-luck might need. You then keep them in your car. When you come across someone in need, you give them a care pack instead of, or in addition to, just handing out cash.
Something like this would have made a world of difference for me. I’ll include a list of items that might be good at the bottom of this post.
This is an article about some people in Jacksonville that have been helping people in this way. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.jacksonville.com/amp/5556519002
Here is my list: Snack bars, protein snacks, rasins, hand sanitizer, face masks, tissues or toilet paper, liquid soap, shampoo, toothbrush/toothpaste, socks, deodorant, soap and washcloth or wipes, a trash bag, a few dollars or a gift card to a grocery store or fast food. * I pack a couple with some feminine hygiene, too. In case I meet a person who needs those.
Drop a comment below with your thoughts? Share pictures if you make some packs of your own!
When I was in elementary school we were marched from our classrooms and gathered in a field one morning. The whole school was told to hold hands. We were forming a school-wide circle of hand-holding in association with the “Hands Across America” project. In 1986, it was a fundraising project to shed light on issues of hunger and homelessness in the U.S. by stretching a human chain across the continent. Many people ended up forming very large circles in towns or schoolyards, like we did, in solidarity with the event.
Today, I was moved by the joint effort of millions of women banding together in the hope of achieving a similar goal of shedding light on issues of equality for women. This attempt was far more successful than it’s predecessor. I raise a glass to the power of collaborative movement!