The cold, wet rain sent the homeless who sleep outside over to a local church in search of a warm night in the gym with a mat and a blanket. This night the rich smell of baked chicken, black-eyed peas and collard greens welcomed them.
“They always open the doors to let us sleep in the gym, wash clothes and take showers but they don’t usually have supper,” white-haired Betty said.
”It’s the first time for the Red Circle to be here,” the volunteer explained.
Betty nodded and began sorting through her collection of cords to find the charger she needed for her phone. As one of the few folks at the meal with a phone, Betty called other “invisible people” as she identifies them to say, “Hey, supper is being served over here.”
She never said how she became homeless. Her son Travis did say, “a month ago our car burned up with all my papers, extra clothes and other stuff. I am trying to get a copy of my birth certificate so I can get my ID.” The process for someone without a vehicle or an address sounded daunting.
Although Travis looked neat he said, “I don’t feel clean. I can’t get a shower unless a church opens its doors and has a shower.”
“Some of the churches have clothes you can dig through. That’s where everything I have on comes from,” Betty said. She put her sneaker clad foot up on the chair, “my shoes were about worn out when this woman came with new sneakers in different sizes.”
The lack of reliable transportation, phone, cleaning facilities and address increase the difficulty of Travis finding a job – even though he has gone to college to study business.
At the end of the table a thin older man bent over coughing, He pulled out a nebulizer and took a breath. He looked at the meal, chewed on chicken and asked, “Is there any butter for the roll?”
A volunteer shook his head,”Sorry, no.”
He set the roll aside.
Later, one of the cooks sat down to eat and asked, “How did you enjoy the meal?”
“I would have preferred a hamburger and fries.”
“That would be a lot of grease,” she shuttered.
Someone turned to Katrina a middle-aged woman, “How did you become homeless?”
“I had a house and family until my husband died and left me with five children. I had to work two jobs and then I got sick.” She listed the variety of serious medical procedures she had had, her diabetes and the confusion and upheaval that followed for the children. She sat looking thoughtful and sad until she murmured, “I just need some quiet so I can think about everything I need to do.”
What did she need to do? Apply again for medical assistance with her diabetes, find a place to live, call the social services again about again not receiving the food stamps for which she qualifies.
“I call them and they say all the lines are busy and tell me to call back later,” she said. “Not an easy thing to do when you don’t have a phone. I applied for a government phone,” she added.
The list of needs grows. Activities that most can do quickly and easily thanks to cars, phones and houses, block the return to normalcy for the homeless who came out of the cold that night to sleep on the church’s gym floor and found a meal, clean clothes and a bag of toiletries. Not enough for the long run, but enough to tide them over for a bit.