I’m walking towards the Bistro. It’s cold out today. I pull my jacket around me, trying to hold in the warm air from my car’s heater. But the surrounding buildings conspire to funnel a biting wind that washes over me. I shiver. I’ll be glad to get inside.
Navigating past Christmas shoppers clogging the streets I decide to duck into Starbucks for the warmth as much as a cup of coffee. As I wait patiently in line for people to order their $6 caramel macchiatos I notice all the homeless people clustered inside.
Claude is there, dozing in an easy chair, while Willie, a more unfriendly and agitated street person, walks back and forth, eyes darting nervously, sipping a cold cup of coffee. Martin, the religious schizophrenic, is reading a paper that someone left behind. No one is sitting near him. That’s because he always reeks of urine.
Soon these guys will outstay their welcome. The Starbucks kids are a nice bunch, but when someone complains, and they always do, they’ll ask the guys to move. Claude has a good instinct for this stuff and will leave before anyone tells him. Willie and Martin need to be told point blank.
I know their routine pretty well. Martin will hide in a church before hitting the Laundromat. Claude will hang out at the library because he can use the bathroom there. Willie will panhandle a dollar, go inside the pizza joint, and spend an hour eating a single slice. Willie takes forever to eat anything.
At night Martin will bed down in a bank’s ATM lobby. Willie will hole up in a doorway. Claude’s nocturnal refuge is unknown. With the mercury dipping their hard lives are gonna get even harder.
I pay for my coffee and head outside. As the cold air hits me I wonder for the thousandth time what being homeless feels like. A sinking scary feeling fills my breast. To wander isolated amidst all that holiday cheer has to be devastating. But then again, you don’t have to be homeless to feel that way.
I walk inside the Bistro. Warmth that smells like fresh baked bread surrounds me. I unzip my coat and head to the back. The kitchen staff greets me with the usual friendly insults, Fluvio grunts hello, the hostess comes up to prattle about her newest relationship fiasco, and Armando hands me the specials. I take a sip of my coffee and acclimate to the warmth. My shivering stops. I get to work. Home sweet home.
As I start my daily prep my inner blogger starts idly wondering if homeless people ever keep an online diary. I worked in a library as a kid. Homeless people were always hanging out in the library. Libraries have computers. Hmmm.
When I get home I consult the Google Oracle. Sure enough – someone thought about it. I spend an hour perusing a blog called The Homeless Guy.
This fellow got some press years back. He’s no longer homeless. He has an apartment. To read his earliest posts you have to use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. But I found his current blog’s insights into what makes people homeless and what it’s like to live on the streets very interesting. I especially liked this post.
Do yourself a favor and check this guy’s blog out. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe you won’t. But you should read it.
Remember – Christmas is coming.
And it’s getting cold.
This post really warmed my heart a little bit, I think at once point or another we all need to stop and just think. What would we do without a warm bed to come home too? Food on the table? A place to shower and wash our clothes?
My ex fiancee met a homeless gentleman out back our apartment one day. He was kind, well mannered and explained that he was trying to get money together so his family wouldn’t need to stay in a shelter but was having trouble finding a place to work. We provided him with some food, a pair of work boots my ex no longer fit and gave him as much info as we could about some labor places we knew..
It really humbles you when you see how hard someone has to work when they have nothing. It really makes you look at your own life a little bit closer and be thankful.
I’ve been reading your blog the last 24 hours or so, and a lot of your posts have almost made me comment, but this one did the trick.
I was homeless for the better part of 10 months in 2000/2001. Not homeless like Claude or Willie, I was staying at a religious shelter in my hometown. I learned a lot about people, myself and the more zealous side of Christianity in that time.
In 2004/2005 I went back to work in the soup kitchen of the shelter. A friend I’d met while we were both in need of the shelter’s services was working as a desk man there. We did develop a bit of a gallows humor to deal with our daily lives, but despite the uncaring facade we both projected to our clients, we truly cared. We had several of our “street people”, the name used for non in-house clients who ate there and stayed in the emergency shelter, we would get annoyed with, but we always worried when we hadn’t seen Tent Man Jim or Lindsay for long spans of time.
It’s been several years since I quite, I work doing billing for a big company now, and he works in the thrift store the shelter has, burn out hit us both eventually, but when we chat on the phone there is always an audible moment of relief when one of us says we’ve spotted one of our street people after they’ve gone missing for a while. We quit the jobs dealing with them on a daily basis but we’ve never managed to shake the habit of worrying about them when things are bad outside.
And knowing them has made me a lot more thankful for the things I have even if things feel bad and rough for me, it could be worse.