Monday, August 22, 2005

Out of Her Element

I used to live in this metropolitan suburb in my early 20’s. So I didn’t think much of moving back for such a short period as I had lived here before.

I feel as though my life has been incredibly blessed (my life’s not perfect but I know it is by God’s grace I am as comfotable as I am). I also know within my heart I am supposed to give something back, I just don’t know what the timing will be.

The first homeless person I met was a middle aged African American lady who I noticed in the local park, not far from our condo. We had walked up to a small park and I noticed her sitting on one of the picnic tables’ bench. Previously, I had done a little work with some of the county shelters, mostly helping out with holiday fundraising, but I was aware enough of what the system is suppose to look like. While my son and husband were playing on the playscape, I went over and talked to her. I had never in my life gone out and purposely sought out a conversation with a homeless person, but my heart urged me to go speak to her. I did, starting with hello and as I did so I glanced over at my husband who I could tell thought I was crazy. She spoke to me about not knowing where she was going to sleep that night and not knowing what she was going to do. Maybe I was the 100th person who was trying to help this lady find her way, maybe I was the 1st. I told her about some of the shelters I knew of. She asked which bus stop should she get off at and since I have never ridden the bus I was unable to answer that question. I told her I would be back with an answer. I gathered my family as dusk was approaching, then I went home and called the shelters. Or I should say tried to call the shelters. Equipped with the internet, yellow pages and a telephone I had trouble finding a crisis line, how are homeless people suppose to find it???? It the hours are M-F, 9am -5pm; they seem so easy to get a hold of when you want to give them money!!! Finally I found one and called just to check, they would take her if she showed up. My step brother had stopped by while I was looking for the phone number and he drove me back up to the park as I didn't want to go alone. I gave her the phone number of the shelter and $2 for a phone call and bus fare. She tried to refuse the money, but I just asked her to use it wisely for I have been blessed with a little extra. I haven’t seen her at that park since and we go there almost every evening.

The second homeless person I met just a couple of days ago was convinced he was a WWII veteran. Honestly, he looked a too little young to me to really be a WWII vet, maybe old enough to be a Vietnam vet, but that is even questionable now I guess. No matter, apparently he had lost his marbles. I still don’t believe that mental illness is any reason for a person to live without a roof over their head. He was trying to sell little American flags during a recent local festival. We just passed him by like every other person that evening, but of course I felt guilty. I passed him again with my sister and couldn’t help but give him at little more than enough for coffee.

Within the last 2 months I have encountered more homeless than I ever did in the 4 years I lived here, 4 years ago. There are more that I have noticed around here than I have actually come in contact with.

Then today at the gas station, as I was putting gas in my car, a man approached me asking for a couple of dollars for gas. I let him have less than 2 gallons of gas as I wasn’t going to give him cash. The gas station attendant came out and said the man frequently does that there. I had been scammed, or at least it felt like it. He was driving an old beat up car. Who knows what the real story is.

All this reality is leaving me wanting to move back to my sheltered community as I feel so naïve and out of place. And there is a new yearning to eventually try to do something, in some small way, to fix the system that is apparently broke in more ways than one; hopefully my naiveté won’t go away.