Tuesday, October 13, 2009
A Walk Down Homeless Row ~
As most of you probably know, I work in a facility for men who have been in crisis and working on recovery. Some of them came from nice homes and lost everything. Some of them come from the streets. All of them are near to my heart. Don't get me wrong, they can be gamey - very gamey. They've fooled me more than once and I'm still learning not to be so naive. However, there are certain qualities that I admire about some of them. Even their sinister sense of humor sometimes awes me. For instance, I was trying (key word being trying) to play a game of spades with them the other day. It was a learn-as-you-go process because I hadn't played in a while. So I told the guys, "I don't have a heart," meaning that I didn't have that particular suit of cards. In return, one of them popped off, "You have a heart, you just don't have a brain!" Well thank Goodness I have a tough skin! But I just take it as a sign of camaraderie. Although I'm not the same, they sometimes let me in to their world.
Besides playing cards and watching TV or reading, there isn't much for them to do while they are there. Shoot! Even their smoke breaks are limited to one cigarette every two hours. However, they are allowed to walk to the corner store that is approximately 1/2 mile down the road, as long as they go in pairs. This same road is where some of them came from, the place where homeless folks live and some of them swap drugs and sell, um... stuff. Anyways, I stuck my head in my supervisors office and asked her, "Do you think it would be a bad idea if I were to walk to the store with some of the guys?" She wasn't worried except that it was somewhat chilly out there. So I started asking around if anyone wanted to walk to the store with me. Wow! They were shocked! "Do you know how far it is to the store?!" "You do know that it's all uphill on the way back?" or, "Why do you want to walk when you have a car here?"
Three of them were ready to go. So I stepped out with them, badge hidden inside my coat and a cell phone in my pocket, just in case. The guys were eager to show me around the place they came from, like it was their old hometown or something. Just this simple walk to the store had a certain routine and they showed me the ropes. Cross the street here, be careful at this spot, here is the tricky part... and we made it safely. And along the way, they showed me where all the people go when there isn't room in the shelter. A trail here, a hill there, a tree or an overpass. People passed us and smiled or nodded their heads. There were even whole families out there. A guy asked us for loose change and we kept walking. I felt safe because "my" guys were there, one on the side and two behind, hemming me in. I don't know if they did that intentionally but it was still a comfort. And my eyes were opened a bit wider to the world around me. They aren't necessarily "bad" people - they are just people. Some made really bad choices and some were just victim to the circumstances. I know I can't save the world but at least now I know some of what I'm dealing with. I recently heard a pastor say, "Our mission is to expand the Kingdom of Heaven, which means making wherever we are, more like it ought to be." The little things I see each day remind me of that mission and if a walk down homeless row was what it took, then I'm happy to do it.