The Space Between


A light sparkled in her eyes as she looked up from the Bible and smiled at me.  She asked me how I was doing and what was new. 

Eyebrows met in confusion when I asked her the name of her outreach coordinator, but she readily gave me the information when I told her that I have a contact at ProjectHOME who wanted to know.  I told her that it’s their job to help her get her IDs and that they are equipped to do it. 

She shrugged, the light dulled and gone when I brought up one of the most socially active services for the homeless in Philadelphia.

I told her that she seemed to be doing a little better (a very little better, to be honest), but she shook her head.  She told me about a doctor’s appointment (clinic) that she had the next day. 

She said that she had blood work that she had to get done because before she became homeless she had been diagnosed with borderline diabetes, a heart murmur, “blah blah blah”.  She explained that the clinic she was going to was able to give her whatever medication she might need free of cost, but that there was still a $20 copay that she had to come up with. 

I told her to go even if she didn’t have it – that perhaps they would wave it considering her circumstances, but she shook her head ‘no’, and said that’s not the way things worked.   She said that her appointment was early in the morning, so if she didn’t have it that night, she wouldn’t be able to afford it in the morning.

We talked about the rising cost of health care for a bit, while I contemplated what to do.  While I wanted to give her the $20, I also would have felt better actually calling the clinic and paying for it – or going with her.  But, neither of those options were applicable.  $20 is a lot of money that goes very quickly when you’re hungry and on the streets.  It also gets stolen very quickly and makes you a target for hostility.  

She is surrounded by different, though similar, people where she squats.  There are the hip-hop boys, who dance for money, the drugged out woman who begs so that she can get money ‘to get her children back’, but she buys drugs with it, the played out (female) player, and various other semi-hostile people who ask for change because they are starving, but yell at you if you actually give them change.

There is also the reality of my own financial situation.  I am between paychecks and recently got hit with $600 worth of unexpected bills. 

So, I did the only thing that I felt that I could do.  I wished her luck as I got up to leave.  As soon as I was on the train, I wrote down the information that I had gone to get, and when I got home I emailed my contact with the information.  I also sent her the information about Mandy’s health issues, when her doctor’s appointment was, and when she is usually in her location.  

When I got off the train this morning, she was sitting in front of the RiteAid.  I don’t know if she already had her doctor’s appointment, if she didn’t go, or if she never had it to begin with.

I don’t know if I did the “right” thing by not giving her money. 

Before people go off half-cocked about my being heartless, or it only being $20, allow me to explain something that I know about myself:  I am a magnet for sociopaths.  They seek me out.  I’m empathic and want to help people, often to my detriment.  Putting myself before others is a skill that I’ve only recently started really learning and applying.

Dr. Jane & Tim MacGregor’s article, “Empathic people are natural targets for sociopaths- protect yourself”, which was published in Addiction Today in October 2013, explains this phenomenon well.  (This article can be viewed here:

Do I think Mandy is a sociopath?  No.  But, I don’t always have the best track record at identifying them and protecting myself.  So, this time I decided to put a little distance between myself and the situation.  It may not have been to Mandy’s benefit, but it was for mine.




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