Earlier this week I went downtown for an Arise meeting. I arrived a bit early so I was hanging out in front of the building, having a smoke, when I heard someone call my name. I turned and saw five friends that I haven't seen since the Warming Place closed.
"Where are you guys, now?" I asked.
"We bought a six man tent and we're staying in it." I'm not going to say where they are-- it's not the riverbank-- but they seemed to be OK for the moment. They were waiting for one more of their friends to show up before they headed home for the night.
Of the six people, four of them are couples. That's one problem with the current sheltering system-- couples can't stay together. At the Warming Place, men and women slept in the same room, separated by dividers, but until it was time for Lights Out, the couples could spend time together. At The Friends of the Homeless shelter, like most other shelters that house both men and women (and there are few) , the sexes are completely separated.
I have actually known two of the guys, Jerry and Jack, since they were pre-teens.
Their dad used to be the custodian in a building we shared with a social service agency. His wife, a meek little woman who always reminded me of a Russian nesting doll, would come into Arise with the three kids and wait for dad to get out of work and we would chat. When the agency took some budget cuts, Dad got laid off. It was all downhill from there. Unemployment ran out, Dad couldn't find another job, they lost their apartment.
For a couple of years they all lived in an unregistered and immovable camper on a friends' property. During that time, Mom died of cancer. The daughter got pregnant and married her boyfriend (I hear they're doing well). Dad's diabetes got worse and he had a foot amputated. A few years after that, he passed away. The boys were sixteen and eighteen.
Jerry and Jack gave me a hug, which I felt I scarcely deserved, because all I have been able to do for them through the years is try to be someone who treated them with respect.
I read a study somewhere-- can't find it now-- that said nearly half of all homeless adults had experienced homelessness as children. One might think, reading the study, that we are talking about a sociological phenomenon, and indeed there are some elements of that, but I think of it primarily in economic terms-- Mom and Dad had absolutely NO material wealth to leave their children to get a foot up in this world.
Jerry and Jack have not completely lost their youthful optimism and their open hearts. Their smiles are still wide and not yet wary. l wish them well.