What I learned on 6th and Main

Last week I had a meeting at the Mayor’s office in downtown LA first thing in the morning. I arrived early to avoid traffic and decided I’d take a walk into Skid Row.

On my way there, I was approached by a man named Miles who asked me for money. He commented on how nice my suit looked and said that he didn’t mean to be a bother. After assuring him that he wasn’t bothering me, I explained that I wasn’t comfortable giving him money. “I’ll take you to get something to eat”, I said.

I could tell that Miles was frustrated and I asked him if he would walk down the street with me. He explained that the reason he was frustrated was that he felt like I was judging him by not helping him on his terms.

He let me know that if it was a matter of not having cash, we could walk to an ATM machine. He said, “I can eat down here 400 times in a day, but I want to take a shower. I smell bad. That’s the kind of help I want.” He grew increasingly frustrated as we stood on the corner of 6th and Main. I was uncomfortable but decided to just stick with Miles and our conversation. Finally, I looked him in the eyes and said, “Miles, I appreciate you walking with me and telling me what’s bothering you. I understand that you don’t want the kind of help I’m offering and I respect that. I don’t want to take anything from you and if I helped you on my terms, I would be stripping you of dignity. So, why don’t we just shake hands, be grateful that we had this chat and we’ll go our separate ways.” He agreed and we shook hands.

Miles reminded me that helping should be a win-win proposition. No one should lose.