British Columbia

'I came across another homeless bum': How an interaction changed one man's viewpoint

Randy Harris, who deals with homeless people on a regular basis as a maintenance worker on multiple properties, says one encounter with a young homeless man changed his mind.

Randy Harris used to view the homeless as a nuisance, now he pays it forward with small acts of kindness

Randy Harris, who is a maintenance worker says he has to deal with homeless people around the buildings he works at every day and he was starting to become desensitized to it. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Randy Harris found himself tiring of media stories on homelessness and addiction. Then one day he found himself untying his shoes to give his socks to a stranger who was cold.

Harris says he has had to deal with homeless people every day in his job as a maintenance worker.

"To me it's overwhelming," Harris said.

 A couple of weeks ago, Harris had a life-changing moment during an interaction with a young homeless man outside a property he manages in Surrey.

"I came across another homeless bum ... and I was thinking to myself  'Oh here we go again, another hour of my time spent with the police trying to get this guy off the property and then more of my time spent on whatever he's left — garbage, needles'," Harris said.

At that point he prodded the man — who was soaking wet and shaking — to get him to move along.

Randy Harris says he used to turn the radio off when he heard stories of homelessness but now he wants to pay it forward. (Christine Coulter/CBC)

"I can see he's a young kid, maybe 18 or 19. He's soaking wet, he's wearing sandals and has a backpack and a small bicycle," Harris explained to Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.

"I asked him one more time if he needs help, thinking I'm going to be reaching for my wallet to give him five bucks and send him on his way, but what he did next changed everything."

The young man asked Harris if he had any socks.

"There was this feeling that instantly came over me as I reached down, I undid my shoes and I gave him my socks that I was wearing ... I realized that I could make a difference in somebody's life with that simple act," he said.

The man took the socks and Harris didn't see him again.

"He gave me one of those fist-bump motions … he gathered his belongings and he rode away."

'There was just something that happened'

Harris says he's not quite sure what came over him that day and he doesn't know why that particular young man changed his view.

"When he turned around and I saw how young he was, there was just something that happened … it was something that I had that I could give."

Harris likens the experience to A Christmas Carol.

"It's like I'm Scrooge and I've seen the third ghost," he said.

"I'm not the guy that throws a quarter in somebody's cup on Robson Street. I'm not that guy," he said, adding that he and his employees have been dealing with this for some time. "I have been picking up after people just like this fellow for the last few years."

He now carries socks with him wherever he goes and hopes that others will do similar acts of kindness.

"I think that paying it forward is maybe something that we can all do. I don't think that continually throwing millions of dollars at this homeless and drug problem is going to solve it," he said.

"What I think is going to make a difference is people opening their minds — that they can make a difference on an individual basis but, more importantly, opening their hearts."

With files from The Early Edition