April 4, 2011

The tale of Eddie the shoe shining homeless man

Have I told you how much I love living in Downtown, LA? Well, I do! It's been several months now and I feel that our move to DTLA has rejuvenated me, just being able to walk to restaurants each night and go out for drinks without turning on our car is such a luxury out here. We've also caught a few games and live theater and walked home after, it's so great.

The less glamorous part of walking in Downtown though is the scores of homeless that you pass along the way, which isn't surprising since the County of Los Angeles is now the homeless capital of the United States, surpassing by far New York City, Chicago and San Francisco’s homeless populations. However, I live a few blocks away from the more sketchy areas and knock-on-wood, I haven't had any issues. Instead, I'm often giving a buck or two to the different vagabonds that catch my eye like this one veteran I saw the other day and those who aren't abrasively asking for a handout and crowding me. Granted, I also shake my head and walk pass a great many too, which saddens me.

There is this one man though named Eddie who often sleeps on our street, just to the side of our building with a shopping cart and a makeshift tent. At first, I was ungraciously annoyed at this poor guy for being so near to us, thinking that he gave off a bad impression to those visiting us. It soon became apparent though that he was harmless. He never once approached me as I passed by alone. Even the Downtown Public Safety guys leave him alone, which spoke volumes to his sanity that they didn't make him move. The most endearing part is that instead of a sign asking for money, he would have a shoe shine sign out in an attempt to earn some money. I unfortunately haven't seen anyone take him up on his services, but Raphael said he once saw someone do it.

Since I didn't have any shoes worthy of shining, I decided to finally stop and say "hello." His face, which was at first blank and lost in thought, brightened up in greeting with a big smile that showed some missing teeth. His face meanwhile seemed sharp with awareness and warmth. He said "hello" back, and I handed him a dollar and pointed out that I lived in the building next to him.

Days later, I kept thinking about his happy face, which I didn't feel like I deserved. After that, I hadn't seen him for awhile, so when I saw him again, I stopped to speak with him with Raphael. I commented that I hadn't seen him in awhile and apparently, due to the rain, he said he was sleeping in another spot. I asked if he would be here again tomorrow because I wanted to drop off a few things for him. He said yes and thanked me.

I then compiled a tote bag with a disposable razor, a beanie cap, baseball hat, scarf, socks, comb, mints and some apple juice boxes. The next day, I didn't wait for Raphael to be there with me to go over to Eddie, I felt comfortable enough. He was there in his usual spot, washing his feet with some sort of spray. I proclaimed, "I told you that I'd be back," He smiled his big grin and said "Yes, you did." I gave him the different items that I had for him and he said thanks and asked for my name, which I shared with him. He also said to thank my "old man" too, which I thought was funny. The following day, Raphael spotted him wearing the Pepsi JOY beanie that I gave him, seen above.

I feel good knowing that he's using the stuff that I gave him and that I'm not simply ignoring him or his plight, but it still doesn't seem to be enough. In New York, I'd often save my restaurant leftovers for the guys in the park and can start doing the same for Eddie and collect any other useful swag for him, but it still seems trivial when I'm doing so well in comparison.

It seems that I'm not the only person affected by Eddie's charms though, as his hand written shoe shine sign has recently been replaced with a professional graphic designed one that someone must have donated to him. You can spot the new fold out sign in the background of the above pic.


  1. I've seen Eddie downtown and wondered if anyone shined their shoes with him. People I know who live downtown, say hi to some transients by name...I guess you get to know them after time since they are indeed neighbors.

  2. You've always had a very big heart. :o)

  3. I had my shoes shined by Eddie when I lived in Metro 417. Always did a great job. 20 minutes.

  4. I think that it's wonderful that you have acknowledge Eddie. So many times in our society, the homeless are the invisible people in society. The fact that you have connected with Eddie is not only tender, but humanistic. The way our society is headed we need to find the humanistic side of those less fortunate. Beautiful story, thank you for sharing...

  5. What a big heart you are! I like the way you're living.

  6. Hi Tara,
    We have much in common it seems.I live in downtown Miami and just a block away are scores of homeless people and cats. We are a smaller city so probably LAX has more. But I once volunteered for the Community Partnership for Homeless a model example to help the homeless back on their feet and to be self sustaining. QUite sad, I learned many don't want the help because they refuse to give up drugs and alcohol. I stopped giving them money when I saw one man go into liquor store and buy hard liquor only to litter my front lawn with the bottle, others smash it. But I still acknowledge Alphonso who lives across the street and squats on a lot that is privately owned by the bank. He tells me when there's new cats in the neighborhood and now I volunteer significant time to spaying/neutering stray cats and rescuing ones that are dumped in the streets. It is the most rewarding work I have ever done. These creatures are forever grateful. There's help for the homeless people if they want it. I commend you for providing staples items to Eddie because at least he tries to work for his keep. Many people forget how there are those less fortunate. But the homeless cats are also voiceless. I am their voice! www.riverfrontcats.com


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