I don’t know where to begin……
Do I start with the man who stopped me on the street yesterday, who told me how I looked like his sister? His sister who had died and she didn’t want him to be like this….a person randomly stopping people on the street. He went into spurts of talking about how God said that these were the judgement days, that people needed to really SEE each other, and then he reverted back to seeing me — Really seeing me — — and saying, “You know, I didn’t used to preach to people, I can’t seem to help myself”.
We talked about how he needed to get back on his meds. I asked if he had a counselor, and he said he would try to remember he needed to have medicine, and he repeated out loud to himself “remember I need medicine, remember I need medicine”, but it was after six and there was no where to go, shelters were full, and then he broke down crying. After crying a short bit he went off on how God was coming for us all……
I asked if he knew where the Shalom Center (a local homeless assistance program) was. He did. But no, he didn’t want to check in with them. He said he couldn’t stop crying about his sister. And then he started crying again. I mentioned Centerstone, our local “behavioral” health care center. He said if he went there to ask for his medicine they’d commit him and he wasn’t about to go for that. He knew the shelter system and social service system fairly well. I couldn’t think of a single resource he hadn’t checked into.
He was miserable. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I pointed to the sky and mentioned how pretty it was. He thanked me for being kind and talking with him. I had no cash on me to offer him, and said good bye, because I had to keep going to where I was going.
I felt so inept.
Or maybe I should start with the woman with two kids under the age of six waiting on the sidewalk for a ride from a friend. None of the shelters in the area have free beds at the moment. She wasn’t homeless due to domestic abuse, so she wasn’t eligible for shelter at the domestic abuse shelter. An advocate had referred her to the Shalom Center to speak with a counselor, but she didn’t look very hopeful and she had no idea what she was going to do or where she was going to spend the night. She was crossing her fingers to be able to stay with the friend who was picking her up. That was the friend that hadn’t had room for her at her home, and who had dropped her off at the shelter to begin with. I can’t judge her friend for that. It is a major life event to open your home to another family and who among us would be able to do that easily, no matter how kind we are in our hearts. This woman’s friend had convincingly told her that “no shelter could turn someone down if they showed up at the doorstep with two kids”, regardless if they met program guidelines,or if the shelter was full. This friend was wrong.
I need to find a starting place of hope. Hope that people start to really “see” homeless people. They are not scary. Their situation is scary. I see people avoiding them by changing their path. This needs to stop. We need to see what is there in front of our face, on our path, so that we can build up enough social concern to do something about it. We need to be uncomfortable.
Yes I feel inept. But I won’t look away.