Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Economic Recovery: Homelessness, Part I (A Rant)
Every damn morning on my way to work I go past one of the homeless shelters for women just as they are throwing the patrons out onto the street for the day. Hit the streets, seven A.M. Empty out from 7 to 6, can't let anybody sleep in to feed a baby or take the time to lend her hairbrush to somebody else. The shelter is a tin shack that looks for all the world like a railroad car sitting on the edge of a city parking lot. It has wooden stairs, unpainted or stained, that take folks from the sidewalk to the entrance and back again. No one would consider this place if they had any other alternative, and I watch the homeless women being tossed out. It is truly horrid to watch any day of the year, but in winter it is the worst.

These women look like anybody's mother on hard times, yours and mine. They wear clothes that we have discarded, given away if we had the decency not to throw them away. They are wearing what you wore last year. There is a lovely young woman who has a pony tail and tennis shoes and jeans. If she weren't carrying everything she owns in worn plastic bags from the nearby supermarket and paper department store bags with two string handles, and if she weren't becoming hunched over from always looking down, you would mistake her for a college student.

The older ones look a little stranger, mostly because they try harder to look like what they think normal is. There is one who likes bright colors, usually wears a red running suit with white stripes. The pants and jacket are slightly different shades of red. She seems to imagine that women of her age and should have a weekly appointment at the hair dresser, so she tries to curl and tease her thin hair. It turns out a little off and garish; I expect she has trouble finding a mirror to use or any way to keep her hair trimmed. But she, like most of the others, tries so hard to look like everybody else.

I know what you are thinking. I've heard it before. Why don't they get jobs? Tell me how you find a job when everything you own is in a shopping bag, and if you leave the bag anywhere unwatched somebody will take it and you won't even be able to change your underwear? And how do you wash your clothes when every cent, yes every damn last cent, goes to buy food or soap or toothpaste if there you have the luxury of a little bit of money left over?

Oh yes, I know about the free meals. I go past two places that serve them on my way home. One is at a nearby church that was once a synagogue and has a stained glass Star of David high atop the north wall and the line to get in for dinner is always at least two blocks long. The other is the emptiest corner at an intersection about half a mile away, a truck stop where people seem to line up for no reason until a pickup truck stops and two people get out and give out Styrofoam cups of something warm and steaming and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches folded in waxed paper. And then there is the church where they serve a hot lunch twice a week. Two block line there too, that starts to form at about nine in the morning.

(To Be Continued)

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