Urban Hike: Handing Out Personal Items to Homeless Men and Women

ZPI encourages reflections from retreat participants, staff, members & others touched by our work and doing similar work from around the world, as part of the practice of bearing witness. Greg Seizan Clark, a member of the Denver Zen Center sangha, shares how while in search of a different pastime while social distancing, he discovered himself meeting and helping his community.

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing orders couldn’t have come at a worse time for me. I just went through a stem cell transplant for an aggressive form of lymphoma and I was very ready to start my recovery – physically and emotionally. I’m an avid outdoors person and spend as much time skiing and hiking as possible. I was just getting ready to get started again when the state was basically shut down. I had a little ‘woe is me’ attitude going. To compensate, I (like many others) logged miles on local county hiking trails. One Sunday, a couple weeks ago, my wife suggested I do an urban hike. 

I thought it was a terrific idea, which I set out to do, but with a simple twist. I’ve been involved in various homeless activities around Denver including ‘Everyone Counts’, protest marches, ZPI Street Retreat, and organized the Zen Center of Denver’s coat drive for the homeless. I decided to go to a local store, purchase socks and underwear for both men and women, and pass these out to people I met along the way. 

I grabbed my dog, loaded my backpack with the clothing items and set out from Union Station, toward the 16th Street Mall and handed out several dozen pairs of socks and underwear. Along the way, I encountered a group providing meals. They offered me some, which I declined, leaving for others who were in need. 

Along the way, I got many nice thank you’s and comments that I was doing good things. That was reaffirming, but not really the point. During my stem cell transplant and the subsequent shelter in place situation, I realized just how lucky I am. I could not imagine fighting lymphoma living in a shelter or on the street. I was in strict isolation when not in the clinic, not even allowed to go to the store, recreation or work (not that I felt much like doing those things). Had I not had the extreme fortune of a home, insurance, a loving spouse and family, and a supportive Zen Center, I might not have survived this. This I know.

I also know that the poor folks who have no home are experiencing COVID-19 in a way far worse than my circumstances of being shut in my home. They have no home to be shut into. If I could provide the tiniest modicum of comfort, I’m glad for that.

The net, net of this for me, is more than a simple feeling of gratitude. I know my actions, however small they might be, can help improve a person’s life. The Metta prayer includes 

May all beings be safe and protected, 

May they be peaceful, 

May they live with ease and well-being, 

May they be happy. 

With this simple action, perhaps my dog and I helped a few people with the third section of that prayer. This is something we all can do.

About the Author:

Greg Seizan Clark, a member of the Denver Zen Center sangha, is also an clinical and environmental scientist. Greg is married with four children and 2 grandchildren. In addition to being a devoted family man, he is also an avid skier, photographer, and beginner cellist. He has been practicing Zen for seven years and received Jukai in 2018.

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Urban Hike: Handing Out Personal Items to Homeless Men and Women

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