What a Homeless Man Taught Me

Amidst the beautiful people, fancy storefronts, and meticulously manicured palm trees, Beverly Hills shares its streets with an increasing population of homeless people.

If you live in LA, this is no surprise to you.

And it was no surprise to me as I made my way on South Santa Monica Boulevard, heading into one of my favorite, though heavily over-priced, shops: Sprinkles - where I treated myself to a $4.00 cupcake.

Each time I do it, I’m aware I’m spending more money on one little piece of cake than I would if I simply bought a box of Betty Crocker mix and made a tray for myself at home.

But the convenience and their overdose of sugary icing hook me every time.

Upon exiting the sweet shop, I passed by a man - early forties, wearing a tattered jacket, sitting next to a shopping cart.

I recall him saying something to me as I passed...

I wasn’t your typical: Can you spare some change? Or Got a dollar?

It was different.

He posed the question: Can you help me?

Though that sounds similar, it struck me.

He wasn’t asking for money.

He wasn’t really asking for anything.

He simply posed the question of whether or not I could “Help him.”

Ultimately, unless I inquired what it was he needed help with, I wouldn’t have known the answer.

I should now put a disclaimer and admit: I do not do this often.

I donate to charities. I even volunteer for a few. But I do not open my wallet every time I walk by a homeless person asking for something.

But this day - this moment - was different.

I walked by him - and I planned to keep walking - when I realized I couldn’t.

There was something about him. There was something about that question.

Could I help him?

I didn’t know.  I had to find out.

So I turned around - and emphatically asked: What do you need? What can I help you with?

It was a very direct question. One that I rarely even ask myself in life.

Think about it - How often do you ask yourself:

What do you need? What do you want help with?

Be specific.

Clarence was.

That’s his name, I learned.

Without missing a beat, Clarence responded: Two cotton t-shirts. Size large. Brut deodorant. A pair of socks. And an orange Gatorade. 

I was floored.


I don’t think I have ever approached a homeless person and asked them directly what they wanted. Let alone, expect to hear such a direct request.

Dumbfounded, I asked: “Where can I get all this stuff?”

He pointed to a Rite Aid on the corner in front of me.

As I loaded my shopping basket with significantly more of a donation that I anticipated on making that day to a man I’d only just met, I started realizing the valuable lesson Clarence just taught me.

You must be clear on what it is you want if you expect anyone to ever be able to help you get what it is that you want.

I filled two shopping bags for Clarence that day. And although my wallet felt a bit more of a pinch than I expected it to, I’m incredibly grateful to him for teaching me such a valuable life lesson.

Get really clear on what you really want.

And don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.

You never know who might be willing to give it. It could just be a stranger you're passing by.

Thank you, Clarence.


Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash