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Homeless woman, in bitter cold, returns kind gesture with unexpected concern

Post by Jason Plotkin

She practically begged me not to take her photo.
“They’ll beat me up and take my spot,” she said to me.
The woman was tiny and looked older than I’m sure she was. She was wrapped in her clothes to keep warm and stood next to a cart filled with some more of her personal belongings.
I had moved past her early this morning on my way to take photos of people shoveling out from last night’s snow. 
She was standing inside of a building and looked tired and cold.
I got a few photographs of what I needed of people in the snow and came back toward her on the way to my car.
 At first she thought I was trying to kick her out of the building. That’s when I told her I worked for the York Daily Record.
We talked for a few minutes. She told me she had been in there all night since the snow started. Not sleeping. Just sitting.
She was trying to keep warm and waiting for the bank to open so she could get money to pay for her room in the motel where she was staying. 
At the time we were talking, it wasn’t even 6 a.m. She had a wait ahead of her before the bank would open.
I don’t usually carry cash with me. I asked her if there was anything she needed.
“A hot cup of coffee and a steak and egg sandwich,” she said to me.
I told her I’d be right back with her order and she told me she was just joking.
I wasn’t.
As I was walking out the door, she said, “I like the York Daily Record.”
I laughed and said, “Me too.”
When I came back with her order, I was also carrying an old blanket I kept in my car. I asked 
her if she wanted it. She did.
We talked a little more. She told me life had been like this for her since the York riots in 1969. She didn’t trust the shelters. She liked where she was, in that stairwell.
“It’s warm and it’s free,” she told me.
I asked her about taking her photo without identifying her or where she was staying. I explained to her that part of what I do as a journalist is shining a spotlight on problems and maybe this could help her.
She said no, then said, “No one wants to help me.”
I wished her well and began to walk away when she said, “Please don’t be mad at me.” I was taken aback with her concern for my feelings.
I laughed again and told her I wasn’t. I hear “no” certainly more than I hear “yes” in this business.
I know that as journalists we can help with the larger issue of homelessness. I believe in journalism and the good it can do by bringing awareness to this ongoing problem. But this morning, in this stairwell, she wanted no part of journalism.
She just wanted to keep warm and have breakfast.