I was just released from jail. A year I had spent in idle. I rode on the number seven bus. That would take me to a new life. A life I never imagined would be in my future. The day was bright and the temperature was nice and warm, but not hot.
The bus was crowded. Most of the people were headed to work. I was wishing I was going to a job. All of them had better clothes than me. Even the drunk who had soiled himself and, made the whole bus reek. The people moved away as far as they could to get away from the smell of his brown-stained pants. We all wanted to get off at the next stop, but it was too far to walk to our destination. Why the bus driver didn’t make him get off was beyond my understanding, including him. As we reached Broadway and Colfax, the bus emptied quickly. Everybody around me was taking deep breaths of pollution-filled air. There I stood, lost in thought. Not knowing where to start, but I knew there was nowhere to go but up in my life. All I had was the clothes on my back, a paper accordion file-folder with the Bible studies I’d gone through over the past idle year. My release papers and a clean pair of socks; the sum total of my wealth. The lady with dark brown hair wore a flowered dress with a light blue sweater, came up to me and handed me a small canvas bag and all she said was “good morning, have a nice day” she got on a bus and was gone. Those words made me feel so good that I say them to all I see every day to try to make them feel as good as she did me.
When I looked into the bag, I found two thick pork chop sandwiches, an orange bigger than my fist, and two cans of Coke. I found out later that it was Be Nice to Someone Day. I have yet to see that nice lady. I really want to thank her for her kindness.
I made a plan for the day to find out how to get things done and get on my way to a better life. I need a backpack; the paper file was not going to last very long, and a place to sleep inside. I didn’t have a sleeping bag or a blanket to keep me warm if I ended up sleeping outside, so I started to walk up to 16th Street mall. Men in suits, ladies in dresses and nice outfits. all of them moving with purpose. Knowing where they need to be. When you have a job, a home, a wife, to wander aimlessly is nice. But to the homeless, it is a day-to-day hell.
This woman asked me to buy her paper. She was middle aged and had a German accent and a very nice smile. I told her I was homeless and didn’t have any money. I explained my situation, that it was my first day of being homeless. Her name was Manuela. She gave me a paper because it had a resource list on the inside back page and gave me directions to the St Francis Center – a day shelter. She said they could give me more help and gave me another smile as I went on my way.
As I walked, the day was heating up and I was hoping the St Francis Center would have the backpack I needed. When I got there, I had to fill out paperwork so they could get grant money to stay open. To maybe get a backpack or a bag, I would have to do a chore in the morning. I was too late to do that. If I did a chore in the afternoon I would have to wait until the next day. They do have some ideas of where I might be able to get one. And two night shelters where I could sleep.
So back to walking. I tried four places without any luck. I was already becoming discouraged in my search for the backpack and my chances to make another life. I stopped at a park to eat the lunch I was given. The orange was fantastic. So was the sandwich. I gave the second one away – it was just too much food. When I reached into the bag and pulled out a can of coke it had a napkin around it. I went to wipe my mouth and saw a $5 bill in it. That gift gave me the motivation to go on with a smile.
I headed to the Holy Ghost Church to talk to a man named Michael. When he introduced himself to me, I liked him right away. He’s a big man like me with a big, friendly smile. I knew that it may be his job to help the homeless, but he liked doing it as much as he could. He didn’t have any backpacks, but he did give me some hygiene products and a new pair of socks.
The last place on my list was the coalition for the homeless. I was told it was a long shot, but I had to try. The sweat from my hand wasn’t doing the paper file any good. I was uncomfortable as soon as I walked in. I stepped up to the reception desk immediately I got the speech what I need to do, when I needed to be there – to maybe get the help I needed to get. Finally when I got my chance to talk, I told him that it was my first day of being homeless and I needed right now was a backpack to replace the file that was starting to fall apart. One of the ladies thought there might be a backpack or two in the back that was left over from last year’s school drive. She went into the back and I said a little prayer. When she came out of the back she had a baby blue backpack. I felt happy and relieved at the same time. The color was not my favorite, but at least it wasn’t pink. My luck was looking up – baby blue skies ahead. I gave them real big thanks and put the file in my bag.
As I got outside I realized it was getting late and I needed to get to a shelter. I had already walked 15-20 miles, my feet were in pain, and every step felt like I had a bent ice pick in my back that shot fire down my leg, but I couldn’t stop. I needed to sleep inside. As I walked up Broadway, I got my first look at the triangle. I had seen it on the news, but this was different. More ugly and way more dangerous. Not a place I would want to hang around. With the mission just across the street I decided to walk the extra mile to the Crossroads.
When I got there I was ready to cry from the pain. I was late and had to wait to see if I could get a mat. Waiting in line is a reality for us all, but to the homeless it is daily living. We wait in line to eat, get clothes, get a place to sleep, take a shower, and even go to the bathroom. It is a hard life that we struggle through. I got in that night at 1:35. Dinner was soup, bread and old pastries. The same as every night thereafter.
About 8 o clock I could lay down. The mat was the same as I slept on in jail, but on the floor. Two inches of foam covered with a stiff, plastic fabric. It’s about 3 small steps above sleeping on the ground. I put my shoes under the mat. I had seen and read the stories of the homeless man getting his shoes stolen while he slept. I used my backpack as a pillow. It was hard, but better than a stiff neck in the morning. I laid down and closed my eyes, but I didn’t get much sleep. The mat was right next to the door to go out and smoke. The door banged open and then banged closed until midnight when they locked it. They unlocked it a 4am and the banging started again. I finally got up about 5am and started walking into a new day.
That was my first day of being one of the homeless.
Being homeless is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, both physically and emotionally. There were times I wanted to give up on it all, but I’m just not that type. Given the choice, I would never live that way again! I’ve learned so much about who I am and who I want to be. I’ve seen the good, the generous, and the kindness. That by far outweighs the bad, the greed, and the apathy we are in contact in our day to day lives.