Things I Learned From Melvin Ramos, the Homeless Man in Kenmore

Melvin Ramos, the iconic man who was homeless in Kenmore Square, passed away. Dozens who knew him paid tribute to him last night, telling stories about him, signing a big card, lighting candles, and leaving some of his favorite food in the nook he slept in for decades.


Here’s an elaborated version of a card I wrote for him and tucked under someone else’s hot coffee for him:

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Dearest Melvin,

Thank you for being such a pleasant neighbor when I lived in Kenmore for two years. Here are some things you taught me:

You can always have enough. A few times, I gave you food but you had enough for the day, so you told me to give it to other people. Another time, I bought you a book for Christmas and you purged it by the next time I saw you. All you seemed to want to keep was your Bible, your most prized possession.

– Be careful with alcohol. You told me your story of growing up in a family of alcoholics and how your abuse of it destroyed your life. You told me there are better ways to cope with a bad day or have fun. You often joke with the hundreds of college students you’ve befriended: “Put that bottle down, man! I’ll drink it for you. Otherwise you’ll end up here like me! I’ll be sleeping in the front and you’ll have the back!” Because of you, I severely cut down on alcohol in my life. Other than champagne at celebrations and sips of friends’ drinks, I’ve spent a grand total of $15 on alcohol from 2012 until now. Thanks for inspiring me to save my money for books. Thanks for taking one for the team. I might’ve been you if I were born in the same situation.

– People are good and friendly. I used to be shy and have so little social confidence. Exchanging a hello with someone as friendly as you every day when I went to class was a big part of my social growth and my confidence in meeting and talking to strangers.

– I also learned to have zero hesitation in touching strangers. Shaking your hand whenever I saw you helped me learn this. Two days ago, someone and I were walking when a man approached us to tell us his story about his upcoming birthday and his nasty motorcycle accident from his past. (Both of us always seem to have signs on our foreheads telling strangers to talk to us. I think you’re the same.) His face was contorted, his speech slurred, his clothes ragged–all uncommon in the suburb we were in. He reached his hand out and I shook it with no hesitation. My friend was worried about germs. I am too–but it doesn’t kill me to touch a fellow human being who might not look like us or have easy access to clean water.

You taught me that everyone has a story. Take time to learn it. You know what’s the plot twist in this? I’m not talking about your story. I’m talking about how much effort *you* put into learning about the regulars around you and asking about their lives. You did this as if it were your job. No wonder you were so lovable.

Above all else, you taught me that–even with so little–you can make friends and you can make a difference. We say you were homeless and jobless. But seeing the 75+ people who showed up at your nook for your remembrance, the hundreds who shared a photo of you in the past few days to express sadness, and the countless people you exchanged conversations with and who will miss you dearly, I might disagree. You had more of a home and more of a defined purpose than many employed people I know.

Thank you.

I’ll miss your laugh and your toothless smile, man. I’ll never forget the day I was starting to get to know you. I gave you an apple and you cracked up at me. =P

With infinite love and hugs,


October 2015

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Photo of Melvin by Eileen Clynes Photography.

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