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The Homeless Immersion Experiment: How I Met Mike

This past weekend, one of my best friends got married. The best man recounted a story of how Jimmy helped a homeless man with cerebral palsy confined to a wheel chair. Memories of Mike came flooding back. I’m going to share about my experience going through a homeless immersion experiment and how Jimmy and I met Mike.

homeless immersion

Back in 2012, a few of us gathered in Santa Monica, CA. With only the clothes on our backs, the purpose of the homeless immersion program was to get a taste of what it felt like to be homeless for 1 night. What could possibly go wrong in one evening? I grew up camping. This experience was going to be a walk in the park.

We met Mike a few hundred feet later on the shopping promenade. He had some sarcastic sign asking for money propped up on his electric wheel chair. Here was a guy in the worst possible circumstance, handling it like a boss with a sense of humor.

We explained we were doing a homeless immersion program and helped him collect money. We then got Mike a baked ziti and decided we would spend the rest of the night with him.

Mike suffered from a condition called cerebral palsy that left him permanently confined to a wheel chair. His movement was incredibly restricted but he had somewhat learned to feed himself with a fork, provided the food was placed in front of him. I wondered, “How has he been able to survive on his own, much less as a homeless man for several years?”

Mike homeless immersion

Mike relied on charity from strangers to get by. He couldn’t go to the bathroom on his own, so he wore a diaper. Ideally, someone would help him change it every few days.

Depending on the night, Mike would get on a Los Angeles Metro bus, and if the driver was nice enough, he’d stay and sleep upright in his wheel chair. In the morning, he’d find a Starbucks, and someone would plug his wheelchair in to recharge it.

On this particular November night, Mike said he knew of a place we could all sleep. Plus, it would be good for his spine to get out of the wheelchair and sleep on the ground.

Will massaged Mike’s knotted up back and I fell asleep. A few hours later, I heard Mike yelling my name. It was pouring down rain and we were all soaked, covered in mulch. Mike was concerned his electric wheelchair was going to be ruined by the water. This homeless immersion experiment wasn’t going down like I thought.

We got him on a city bus and I got his contact information. The immersion was over. I didn’t even make it 24 hours, but I stayed in touch with Mike.

One night I invited Mike to come to church and dinner with a group of us. He met Jimmy. One thing about Jimmy is that when he commits to doing something, he gets it done. He’s an entrepreneur with a big heart and that evening he became committed to helping Mike.

Jimmy has connections everywhere and when Mike said he dreamed of becoming a comedian, Jimmy got on the phone and called his friends at Comedy Central. He started paying for Mike to stay in hotel rooms. He went over and beyond for Mike, meeting him at the hotel, picking him up from his wheel chair to lay him in bed. He even helped him change his diapers!

Helping Mike get hotel rooms was great, but I knew this wasn’t a long term fix. I started making phone calls. It wasn’t long before I discovered Mike had living options, but he chose not to take them. He had lived in a group home before, but found it restrictive, and wanted to be out where normal people were living their lives. He chose to be homeless because that’s where he found freedom.

One day, I had a business review meeting with my manager. Mike called a few times, which wasn’t abnormal. My review would be over in a few hours and I’d call him back. But, when I got to my car and tried calling Mike, he didn’t pick up. Over the next few days I tried calling him…nothing. Jimmy told me he hadn’t heard from Mike either.

A few weeks later, I saw Mike calling me. I picked up.

“Hey Mike! What have you been doing?”

But, on the other end, I didn’t hear Mike’s voice.

“Hello, this is Mike’s mom. Did you know my son?”

I was confused.

“Mike passed away a few weeks ago,” said. “This was the last number he tried calling.”

I can still feel that sinking feeling. Mike’s mom informed she’d barely spoken to her son since he’d left their Midwest home to come to Los Angeles a few years before. The only thing she knew was Mike had refused treatment at the ER and had passed away peacefully.

I don’t know what Jimmy and I’s purpose was in Mike’s life. We met him that November night during a homeless immersion experience, but I believe we’re simply called to love people and that’s exactly what we did.

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2 Responses to The Homeless Immersion Experiment: How I Met Mike

  1. Matthew Kasinec March 27, 2017 at 6:34 pm #

    This. A feel-trip from start to finish, Kris. Hopefully you and your friends’ impacts were not made in vain. You shined your lights into the crevices at the base of civilization. “Be the change you want to see.”

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