beginning the week by showing up late to work on monday isn’t my idea of getting off to a good start, but that’s what happened this morning. i hate the feeling of rushing around the house in a sleepy daze trying to get organized, forcing down a bowl of dry cereal because i didn’t put enough milk in it, only putting deodorant under one armpit, tripping over everything and anything as my eyes get adjusted to reality.
today i’m working down in the hood, not at my group home. here, i mostly sit behind a desk in an office that faces the street corner where many familiar faces from the street pass by at least once, sometimes many times per day. right in front of me is a large window and through it i can see a graffitied building with slogans like ‘don’t stop’ and ‘bring the funk’.
‘bring the funk’ is motivating today when my energy level is feeling rather low.
the rebuilding offers permanent residence to men who have been living at one of the men’s homeless shelters in the city. many of the men who live here now are long-time residents of shelters and street life. this housing-first approach gives them an opportunity to focus on other important things (health, addiction, family, employment. etc), knowing they have a safe, comfortable space to go home to.
i wish there were more of these buildings in the city. more men and women need this opportunity.
on my desk sits two computer screens. one has 20 different screens relaying all the security camera feeds so we can make sure things are safe. the other computer is for paper work and for surfing the internet during the quiet times in the day.
one client is doing laundry today and i can see him pacing around the common room waiting for his loads to finish. this particular client thinks he’s God and that he runs the rebuilding. i don’t bother to correct him when we talk and even pretend to take his authoritative commands when he gives them to me. he calls me one of his best employees.
a lot of the men living here deal with some of the more severe mental health issues, not to mention physical health troubles. schizophrenia, bipolar, hoarding, hep c, hiv.
mental illness and addictions are typically part and parcel with the street life.
another client stops into talk with me. he’s been up since early this morning collecting bottles and cans. him and i know one another from my days dropping into the men’s shelter to hang out. he’s a little boy in a man’s body. understands how the world works well enough but because of his learning disability he has been stunted in his maturity. he has trouble looking after himself, eg. his health, personal grooming, what to eat, what not to eat, etc. he complains to me about his neighbor playing his music too loud at night but offers that he really enjoys his taste in music so he doesn’t want to tell him to turn it down.
i have to laugh. fortunately he thinks it’s funny too and laughs with me.
it’s raining pretty hard outside but that doesn’t stop guys from going out for the occasional smoke or expedition to find something a bit harder than nicotine. they wave at me through the window and head off on their way, sometimes with a bright smile on their face, other times with a sullen, sunken, expressionless look that says to me, ‘i don’t want to do this anymore..’
what do you do when you see someone in slavery? but instead of a slave owner or pimp, the master is a drug, an addiction, an unquenchable desire and lust for something that kills, enslaves, destroys.
it’s quiet here now and my shift is about to end. some of the kids i coached at the local high school are passing by my office window on their way home from school. many of the kids i coached live here in the hood. my prayer for them as they pass by is that they won’t end up like these men at the rebuilding – broken, forgotten, enslaved – but i know that some of them probably will. some will fall through the cracks at some point and wind up on the streets or in jail or, heaven forbid, worse.
i notice from the corner of my eye a string of words amongst the graffiti on the wall across from our building.
‘there is hope’.
as bad as things seem, it’s true, there is hope.