All it took to turn the situation around and bring this man out of deep despair was one woman who refused to look away.

Katy Hurst was waiting in the drive-thru line at a Burger King restaurant in Independence, Missouri, when something caught her eye: a man was sitting alone at a table inside, his head in his hands. And he was crying. 

As far as Hurst could see, no one approached the man to ask what was wrong. The other fast food customers just continued about their own business, ignoring the older man’s distress. It broke her heart. Hurst was so upset by the tragic scene that she took a picture and posted it on Facebook. The picture would become a catalyst for action.

After a minute, Hurst realized that something about the man was familiar. She had seen him before. And then it dawned on her: The man crying alone at the table was a recognizable figure in the community. Hurst often saw him riding his bike around with a cart hitched to the back. People called him Pops, and Pops was homeless.

Sobbing and Alone

Homelessness carries a lot of stigma. Homeless people are used to being ignored; in fact, many will say that they feel invisible. But a little bit of compassion can go a long way. To look a homeless person in the eye and acknowledge their presence is to show compassion and empathy. It’s letting them know that they matter, too.

But Pops was sitting alone. And as he sobbed, his head in his hands, no one asked him if he was okay. People walked right past him, as if he didn’t even exist.

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Hurst couldn’t let that go on. She got out of the drive-thru lane and parked her car. She approached Pops and sat down at his table. They started to talk. Pops told Hurst that he was having suicidal thoughts. He felt alone in the world, and he just wanted it all to end.

Hurst looked him in the eye and said, “Today is not that day.” 

An Incredible Generous Spirit

Then she asked Pops to come home with her. She made him some hot meals and gave him a comfortable place to sleep. Hurst noticed that Pops seemed to be in pain, so later, she took him to a medical clinic to see a doctor. As it turned out, Pops had several broken bones. He told the doctor that, living on the streets, it wasn’t uncommon for him to get beaten up.

Meanwhile, Hurst’s Facebook post was garnering attention. Other people in the community recognized Pops and wanted to help him. Offers of food, clothing, money—and even a haircut—started pouring in. Pops was no longer being ignored. Thanks to the photo, people were really looking at the homeless man now, acknowledging his need, and reaching out to help.

Hurst set up a crowd-funding page for those who wanted to offer Pops financial support. At last count, the community had raised over $8,000.

“We have to help each other,” Hurst said. “Helping each other helps all of us.”

Indeed, when we pull up the most suffering members of our communities, we are helping to raise the community as a whole. All it took to turn Pops’ situation around and bring him out of deep despair was one woman who refused to look away.


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