Ubiñas: Happy endings aren't made to order

URBINAS10
Lamar Andersonis a homeless hero but his own salvation isn’t coming easy.

HERE'S THE HAPPY ending I wanted:

Homeless hero Lamar Anderson gets much-deserved recognition for helping a man who was viciously attacked by another homeless man inside Suburban Station on Jan. 26.

People line up to pat him on the back, help him out.

He gets a job.

Housing.

Enough support to get him on his feet and keep him there.

The reality - well, it's taken a lot longer for all that to happen.

I know that the reasons for homelessness are complex, that the path to the streets is just as complicated as the path out, that happy endings don't abide by deadlines.

But I still - foolishly, hopefully - set my hopes high and my expectations higher. And I wasn't the only one.

Since the day I met Anderson, he's talked about long-overdue blessings. Maybe his brave act would help reset his life, he wondered. Hey, why not? By the time he stood between a man with a pipe wrench and the man savagely beaten over the head with it, Anderson had been homeless for more than 10 years.

People did step up to help Anderson, and they still are doing so. I'm just not sure how to respond anymore, because I'm not entirely sure what Anderson needs, other than a much bigger support system than one cheerleading columnist.

The experience has forced me to take a good, long look at expectations: mine, his, and those of others who want to help under certain conditions. I was surprised at how many people emailed me to say they were interested in helping Lamar - if he was clean, sober, and had no criminal record. If he was a "deserving" hero.

I typed out a very unprofessional response to a reader who all but wanted me to supply him with urine and blood samples before offering Anderson some money. I deleted it because, if I was being honest, I had been asking too much of Anderson, too.

Over the time I've gotten to know Anderson, I've found myself getting frustrated when things weren't moving as fast as I thought they should - when I sent job offers his way and he told me that what he really needed was housing. When he declined housing options because they weren't right for him. When he grew agitated over his circumstances and insisted that nobody cared about the homeless.

Why couldn't any number of city organizations swoop in and do whatever it took to help him, I wondered - as if every night in Philadelphia an average of 650 people aren't living on the streets, 300 in Center City, who deserve the same help.

When Anderson didn't show up to a meeting with a man offering a job, I apologized on behalf of Anderson for "wasting his time."

"Giving someone a foot in the door is never a waste of time," the man responded.

I wasn't being fair to anyone.

So I did what I always do when I'm stuck - frustrated that I can't help someone who I believe deserves help: I reached out to a handful of people I trust to tell me the truth and who aren't afraid to tell me to get over myself. A police officer I trust advised me to stop pushing, to believe that Anderson will find his way when he's ready, knowing that people are rooting for him.

I don't know what you do when you get good advice that you're not ready to hear, but I went looking for a second opinion. I turned to Christine Simirglia, president and CEO of Pathways to Housing PA.

She was gentle, said I shouldn't beat up myself - or anyone else - for wanting Anderson's circumstances to be different right now. But said I needed to concentrate less on the outcome.

No matter how hopeful advocates or columnists or well-intentioned readers are, we can only do so much. We can start a process; we can't will things to happen on our timetable.

The truth is, I don't know Anderson very well. He's let me in a little, told me of time spent in group homes that might explain why he says he doesn't do well in shared housing.

But I know this: He did a good thing, and he deserves better than a life on the streets. Every homeless person in Philly does.

Anderson deserves a happy ending, and I'll continue to do what I can to help him get it. I'm not sure how or when it will come, but I have to believe that eventually, it will come.

ubinas@phillynews.com

215-854-5943 @NotesFromHel

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