I met Rex Hohlbein yesterday. More importantly for the purpose of this post, however, I also met Randy and David. Rex is an architect and photographer I discovered through the Facebook page Homeless in Seattle. Randy and David are his neighbors. At least they are some of the time. Both men are homeless and I was just lucky enough that the day I stopped by, they were in the park along the canal outside.
As Rex and I were walking back to his office from the coffee shop, Randy saw us and called out, wanting to ask Rex something. Rex said he had to meet with me first and would check back in about 45 minutes. Either because it’s hard to tell how much time has passed when you don’t have a watch, or because our conversation lasted that long, Randy and Dave didn’t wait for Rex to check back. They came knocking on his door.
This isn’t the first time homeless men and women have knocked on Rex’s door. Rex has many “neighbors” who know they are welcome to cross Rex’s threshold if he is available. There are photographs of many of these visitors pinned up on the architect’s “conference room” wall.
David’s tall thin form greeted Rex when the door opened. Randy stood a few steps down but when he glanced in and saw me sitting there, he turned like he was about to walk away. When I smiled and waved, he changed his mind and came in. Rex introduced us and we all shook hands.
The reason for the day’s visit was that David desperately needed a new pair of pants. The old ones were about to fall off him, he said, and it was clear he wasn’t exaggerating. Thanks to the generosity of supporters of Homeless in Seattle, Rex has a few supplies on hand that are free for the asking in emergencies like these.
While Rex and David rummaged through available wares, Randy proudly pointed to his photograph on the wall and called attention to several others whom he knew. Those same portraits and many others can be found on the Homeless in Seattle’s Facebook page.
We four stood around and chatted for a bit. Just a couple of neighbors dropping by to borrow a cup of sugar, or in this case a pair of blue jeans, and shoot the breeze. David has a friend coming to town he wants Rex to meet. Randy and his girlfriend have broken up again and there were a few jokes exchanged wondering how long that would last this time.
Between the sun streaming in the plate glass window and our jovial smiles, I couldn’t help wondering why it couldn’t be like this more often. Why aren’t more people willing to let the less fortunate “in?” If not into their homes, offices or place of business, at least into their awareness. Everyone deserves a little human dignity.
That’s what Homeless in Seattle seems to be at its core, not another charitable organization or advocate for social change. It’s not even really about homelessness. It’s about human interaction . Let’s view the Davids and Randys we meet from a personal level rather than as an issue that needs to be addressed.
As I left the office and walked back to my car, I saw David again, lounging in the sun with the sidewalk for a chaise lounge and a stop sign post as a back rest. Just another Freemont resident enjoying a beautiful spring day while the sun’s still shining.
So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please,
Won’t you please?
Please won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
By Fred M. Rogers