Homeless - Late 2019

July 2019

July 13, 2019

Second Saturday Shower Program at St Luke's Episcopal Church - a jangly sort of day at first, our beloved team leader is walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain and things were not run the way he usually runs them. Plus we were short-handed. But once we opened the doors and got things moving, we found our rhythm.

Our mother/daughter combo were first in line, as usual. The daughter was in a wheelchair - I didn't pay it much attention, I thought she was playing around. But then the one I call Carol Channing, still in HER wheelchair, said to me, "Tell her she must stay off that leg if she wants to get better!" So I asked, surprised, "What happened to your leg?" "I got stabbed." "What???? How?!!!" "A girl was disrespecting my mother and I beat her up and she stabbed me twice in the leg." She tells me this in a flat tone.and rolls up a pajama leg to show me a huge cut sewn up with big black stitches on her calf. This girl is like a puppy, one who gives spontaneous hugs to everyone - this time I bent down to hug her, and she leaned against me, uncharacteristically soft. This stabbing happened two weeks ago. This is the daughter whose mother, last month, had just come out of hospital from having a stroke, determined to see her other daughter graduate high school. Today, although Mom was first on the list for a shower, she waved her hand - "Let someone else go before me - I've just taken my medicine and it makes my heart flutter. I need to settle down."

Meanwhile, 'Carol Channing' just wanted clothes today. She was drinking from a paper cup. "What are you drinking?" asked one of the volunteers. "Beer!" she grinned. And when she found some clothes, she wheeled herself off flashing her huge smile, mouthing an expansive 'I love you!' to all of us. Do not underestimate the power of a smile - she brightens the place, beer or no beer.

Most of the women today were regulars - the studious one with glasses and long gray hair and her book of Sudokus who keeps her head down and works her puzzles until it's her turn; the deaf one who gets so impatient with me for always getting her name wrong (it sounds like Rwanda but it's not and of course I can't think of anything but Rwanda when I see her); the one who sits hunched and quietly moaning to herself, eyes darting every which way, keeping a look-out - I imagine she is soothing herself somehow with her constant guttural 'mmm'mmm'mmm'.

A good friend donated several bags of women's clothes from a friend of hers who is a keen (overly keen) shopper. Some of the clothes, she told me, had never been worn, still had price tags. I was there when I'm guessing one of her items was pounced upon with glee by a woman who was looking for something 'long enough to cover this' (she waved vaguely at her stomach). Brand new, this pretty top - it still had the price tag. You should have seen her light up, "That's perfect!"

There was a new woman I hadn't seen before, bleached blonde hair, very tanned tattooed skin, startling blue eyes, skimpy tank top stretched over a very large body - she told me with a huge grin that she was Greek and Italian and several other things besides, but mostly she was American so she was one up on me 'because you're not!' she crowed. She thought this hilarious. She told me she didn't like the Italians so much because 'the Mafia kills their own.' She was extremely hard to follow - talk of the Mafia segued to gangs (is she in a gang? unclear) and that sometimes her head hurts and she has to tell people to please keep it down, because her head... She's telling me all this with a broad grin and expansive movements, but when it's time for her to come find some clothes, she shows me her hands with their calloused filthy palms, and asks in a small voice, "Should I wash my hands first before I touch the clothes?"

You know, sometimes I think I can dismiss these women, listening to their rants with half an ear, nodding absently not understanding a word - and then they say or do something so utterly sweet and unexpected, I SEE them - not as annoyances or mad creatures, but as fellow human beings who have fallen upon truly awful times. and who are doing their best to survive. It's a humbling experience.

Here's one that made me smile: A magnificent black woman, well-endowed... When I took her in to find something to wear, Sue the volunteer said brightly, "I have extra large t-shirts and xx t-shirts too!" And this woman replied firmly, "I would prefer something a little more" - and here she drew the word out with relish - "snug." Such confidence - 'I'm not hiding this, I'm FLAUNTING it!'

Finally, the woman from last month who lives in her car with Solomon the dog, asked me if I could get her a pair of boxers (she does love her boxers)... my friend Yolanda was subbing today in the men's closet so I was able to do that for her (red silky ones, very snazzy). Turned out she was parked two cars away from my own. I went to tap on her window to tell her I was leaving. Solomon jumped up from his passenger seat, wagging his tail and smiling in that goofy doggy way, so she let him out of the car to greet me because "he remembers you!"

So I will end here, because that was a lovely way to end the morning, being remembered by Solomon.