Friday, August 20, 2010

My Homelessness Immersion Project: Day One

As soon as I stepped off the bus my life was different. I carried a bag over my shoulder. I was dressed plain and casually. As I walked down the street folks began to stare at me disdainfully or avoid eye contact with me. As time went by I sat and observed how pedestrians responded to the homeless, I wanted to make sure I was not simply projecting.

I had time, lots of time. So I walked over to Matthew 25. This is an important agency in our city. It is the free dental and medical clinic for the poor. However, you sign up early in the morning. Sitting and waiting is the occupation of the poor. Having grown up on welfare this was all too familiar.

I walked over to Ave Maria House to get their hours. This is the local drop in center. The front porch was full of people hanging around talking. It simply looked like family spending time together.

I was aware that I was in the hub of Catholicism downtown. Ave Maria House and Matthew 25 are separated by St. Mary’s Parish Church. This church started both agencies. Two blocks away is the cathedral and the cathedral square. The cathedral square includes the chapel, rectory, diocesan offices and cathedral center. Two blocks north of that is the Bishop Noll Center which houses the museum, book store, and various offices of the diocese. The commitment to the poor by our local diocese was evident.

I walked downtown. The heat was horrible. Most people avoided me. When I looked directly at them they acted as if they did not see me. I was becoming invisible.

I walked to the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission. I did not know how to go about getting a bed, there were no directions posted. I asked a man waiting outside and he told me to come back at 3 PM for an intake. He was a resident and he was wrong but I did not know that.

I then spent time at the main library. They is one of the centers for the poor and homeless in the downtown area. I would learn, rather quickly, that most of these folks do not stay at the shelter. Still, I suspect many patrons of the library blame the Rescue Mission for this gathering of the poor.

The library is air conditioned. It was an outside pavilion in the shade. Inside are computer banks and internet access, an art gallery, a coffee shop, an auditorium, lectures, movies and of course books, newspapers and reading rooms. It is a great place to go to get out of the heat, the rain or the cold and it is free.

At 3 I return to the shelter. Intakes are after dinner. So I sit. By 4 PM the outside waiting area is becoming crowded. The community comes here to eat. Men and women of all ages begin to arrive. I quickly become aware of a prejudice I have that I have never identified. I cannot stand the folks who are loud and vulgar. This included a woman yelling at the top of her lungs at a man a block away. She tells him what she will do to him if she catches him. That does not seem like an authentic threat, she is shorter than me.

Finally it is time for dinner. It is so crowded we wait in line and have to wait until seats are available. There are parents with their children here, infants here. This place serves a very important function.

The loud and vulgar become quiet as soon as they cross the threshold. I am left with the impression that their loudness is posturing but once they are inside they are in a safe place and t hat posturing is no longer required.

It has been a hot and humid day. The man sitting across from me complains because I smell; now that was humbling. We are served chicken, corn, salad and water. Some people leave with loaves of bread. It was not a grand meal but I am full.

Because the shelter is at capacity I decide not to stay. I walk home. It has been a long day and just the beginning of this journey. I arrive home with wrinkled cloths, perspiration stains, I am pouring sweat and I smell. Still, I have a shower, I have family and I have a bed. I am tired and I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Record summer numbers in rescue mission

1 comment:

Leo Baxter said...

Thanks for sharing tthis