The Man in the Van

The Man in the Van

Today's story is from marketing consultant Robert Middleton. He's the person who inspired me to talk to The Man on the Stone Arch Bridge—and ultimately, led me to finally create this website!

Several months ago, a friend told me that he was getting to know some homeless people who lived in our area. And he recommended I do the same—instead of ignoring them, just speak with them.

So, the next week, I did just that when I was walking my dogs past an area where a few homeless people live in my town.

I introduced myself to Steve who’s been living in an old Chrysler van for a few years. Steve is 75, didn’t have enough money for retirement or even rent, and ultimately found himself without a home, just a van.

I now speak to Steve almost every day when walking my dogs. We don’t just say hi to each other, we share what's going on with our lives and with the world. We share a lot of laughter as well Steve is wicked smart, has a great sense of humor, loves my dogs (he has a dog of his own who lives in the van) and really appreciates me as a friend.

Not long after meeting Steve, I also met Chris. Chris is 42 and has been homeless since he was 20. He lives in a non-working Mercedes SUV. And as he needed money and work, I offered yard work to him. The first project was cleaning and refinishing my deck.

Chris approaches work with enthusiasm and energy, but has some issues about consistency. But he does a few hours of work for me each week and I’ve also helped him get his driver’s license updated and acquire a no-cost cell phone. Recently he got a steadier job with a local tree company.

Chris has told me that I’m the only person in his life who has stuck with him and not given up on him. And he shows his appreciation by showing up at my house asking if there’s anything he can do for me.

Last Thanksgiving my wife asked where we should go to eat. I thought about it and it was hard to imagine going to a fancy restaurant when I knew so many in the area were without a hot meal most days.

So, I put together a few flyers and posted a notice on and announced a community Thanksgiving dinner in the small park where many homeless people congregate.

The people from NextDoor were ultra-generous and we had more than enough food donated to feed the 45 people who showed up. I bought and cooked two turkeys.

It may have been the best Thanksgiving dinner I ever had.

What I’ve learned from all of this is that poverty and homelessness are not abstract concepts. These are real people going through tough times. They are amazingly resilient and I’ve found most of them to be cheerful and kind.

And I also discovered I didn’t have to make this some “big project” where people met, raised money, etc. Just seeing and speaking to Chris every day has added a new dimension of purpose and caring in my life.

It’s made me a kinder, more compassionate person. And all it took was reaching out and speaking to a homeless man in a van.

Robert Middleton helps self-employed professionals (consultants-coaches-trainers) attract more of their ideal, high-end clients. You can learn more at Action Plan Marketing.


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