A Homeless Man Died at the Kid’s School Today

I got an email today from our new head of school. It read in part:

At approximately 9:15 this morning, the body of a 39-year-old homeless male was discovered adjacent to the main parking lot between the south wall of the school and the bushes. The police and coroner came and went without incident. The children are unaware of what occurred, other than some noticed the police cruiser parked in the lot.

Jane was aware. In sixth grade they are becoming aware of everything. Alexander hadn’t noticed that his school was locked down. Same school, same event, two very different kids.

So when I picked the kids up from school this afternoon I was trying to prepare myself for the questions they would have. The kids hopped in the car just after three o’clock and I asked them how the day was.

Alexander had a great day, but Jane said that they were in “lockdown because of a hobo problem”. I gently corrected her, “It was a homeless man, and he died.”

“He did die? See the girls said he died and that they saw the dead doctor [coroner?] at school, but I didn’t believe them, and the boys said that it was probably a fight, and the security guard didn’t tell us anything.” As is customary she said it all in one big breath.

“Wait, what do you mean he died?” Alexander interrupted.

“I’m not sure about the details honey, but this morning a man died near the school. It’s very sad whenever someone dies.” I said.

“Who was he?” They both asked.

“I don’t know” Was my reply.

“Why did he die?” Someone asked. I was white knuckle, driving, hoping they wouldn’t ask me any difficult questions.

“I don’t know.” Was my next honest reply.

“Do you think he was murdered?” Alexander asked.

“Possibly,” I said, “though I hope not.”

“Where will he be buried?” Jane asked.

“I don’t know. If you’re homeless sometimes people don’t really know your name, so I think the city just does their best. Do you have any other questions?” I asked the kids.

“How old was he?” Alexander asked.

I blinked back tears, “thirty nine.” That’s one year younger than I. That’s just not long enough for anyone to live.

I pulled the car over.

And we talked about what a corner does. We talked about food pantries, and how important it is for us to buy good quality food for the pantry each week so people don’t have to decide between food and rent, and maybe they won’t have to be homeless. The kids recognized that he died because of homelessness.

And we talked about how homeless people are just like us, except that even if, even if, and even if a thousand different scenarios happened Jane and Alexander would have a home. A real home. And then I silently thanked G-d because I wasn’t lying to my kids, because with a thousand different bad luck scenarios taking place, my family would always be there. All my kids wanted to know was that they were safe. I could tell them they were. Honestly.

And then we all cried a little. Because Los Angeles is too rich to have people dying on the street.

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9 Comments

  1. I hate having these conversations with my kids. It means that something took a bit of their childhood innocence away. Something gave them a dose of reality at an age where it’s difficult to truly understand what’s happened. And to not be scared.

    It IS hard to look around LA without noticing the wide spectrum of social class and scratch your head. Growing up in Orange County, I didn’t get it. I didn’t realize why everyone wasn’t “comfortable” like us. It’s good for young kids to experience the realities of the world. And hard to know when they’re old enough, and mature enough, to truly understand.

    Good job today.

  2. Peggy Brister

    I don’t believe in God, but for someone who does, or seems to since you said you thank God, why would you be afraid to type the word God?

    • Peggy, some religions and individuals prefer not to type the word God out of respect.

  3. Oh, how awful. I think you handled it beautifully.

  4. What an awful thing. I’m glad you were able to talk to your kids about it, though, so honestly and compassionately.

  5. I think that was a great way to talk about it with your kids, to answer honestly and compassionately. Maybe if more parents did that we wouldn’t have homeless people. Such a sad story, though.

  6. Clicked on your link from Erin’s blog. Really deep post and an important read for everyone. Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Dammit Jessica. Every time I get a little aggravated with something you post, you go and write something like this and get me all teary eyed. But I guess it’s why I keep coming back. :)

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