Thursday, February 26, 2009
We all see on the news when a minority kills another person in the slums of a big city. They're rarely homeless but of course one would expect that as a person's situation worsens, so do his actions. This is where I was surprised.
These men were grateful. Sure, there were the ones who didn't give a damn what was going on, they were just getting a meal. They would probably go out and continue the negativity they were creating before they came in, but that's another stereotype.
We didn't know a single thing about these people's lives. We only know them in this setting. We probably saw them at the high point of their day. Every man had his story and almost every man became friendly with us. I couldn't help myself from feeling bad when a man asked me what year I was in college. He was sitting at his table, eating his bowl of God knows what, and asked with the biggest smile on his face, "What year are you in school?" I said I was a sophomore and he smiled even bigger. I have no clue as to why this would make him smile but I only have one guess. He was overcome with hope. He saw someone willing to come and help (I use the term willing loosely as none of us really did this out of pure choice) and spend a little time to make their lives a little easier. He probably thought if this guy can do it, I know I can do something too. Probably not college but at least something. The man was wearing a blur of a coat that had many colors and many layers and a Chicago Bears hat. A few minutes later, I came by to pick up his neighbors tray (another black man who was older and wore seemingly the same blurry coat) when the first man asked another question, "Are all of you from Miami?" His smile was just as big as the last time.
Aside from a few men who were a little pissed off the entire time, everyone was as friendly as this. They appreciated our help, no matter how menial it was. Surely, some of these men were completely responsible for the reason they were in this place. They screwed up somewhere and they screwed up bad. I'm not saying they don't deserve our help, but I think these men couldn't care less our tax money is wasted to help them out when they can't help themselves. As for the rest, as for the majority of them, I feel fine with spending my tax money and my free time trying to improve their lives. That is truly something a fiscal conservative like myself did not expect and will remember forever. Not all men are evil. Everyone deserves a meal, medicine and a second chance. God bless them.
Green and yellow walls, meant to be cheerful and welcoming. Succeeding, but at the cost of looking a bit like a slightly outdated preschool. An image enhanced by the quilt hanging on the green wall—the kind where everyone creates his or her own square, the kind I made with Mrs. Futrell’s kindergarten class.
Plastic tables surrounded by an assortment of folding metal chairs. Food service counter, the kind where people stand behind it and scoop food from aluminum trays heated by steam from beneath. Where you can watch the food be scooped through the glass. Again, all together strikingly similar to a 1970’s public school cafeteria.
Coats. Every type, every color. Some torn, some looking relatively new. A blue trench coat. A few NFL fan jackets—Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys. All still being warn, despite the overly-warm climate of the room.
Gnats. Not a lot, but enough to be annoying.
Smiles. Joking. Laughter.
Sullen stares. Despondant faces. Blank stares. Twitching.
Old men. Black. White. Guys my age.
Boston Red Sox hat.
Chocolate chip cookies. Oatmeal cookies. One per person. Until it was time for seconds, when people left with stacks of 5 or 6.
Altar Knights Jersey—my rival High School. Known for it’s stocked parking lot—where a new Jeep looks a little shabby.
Orderly food service. Grins and “thank-you’s” More smiles.
Lack of eye contact. Shame. Mumbled thank-you’s. or none at all.
The systematic nature of the whole process is impressive. The big, friendly man checking everyone off. Knowing all the residents by name. Sitting down, carefully placing their food on the table, clearing their tray. My cue that my services are needed. I take the tray, with a smile and a thank-you. Usually a return smile. Sometimes an impatient tray waves in the air. As if it is presence is inconvieniencing its owner. Or maybe the man is simply trying to be helpful.
Salt packets. Pepper packets. Empty. Full. Sprinkled everywhere. Floors. Tables. Again—reminding me of little kids.
“How old are you?” as I grab a tray
“Not yet.” With a smile…the best response I can come up with.
“Not yet? Well I still got time then. I still got time!” With a laugh. With a few laughs—the table, me, another tray-clearer.
Guy on a cell phone as he ate the spaghetti. A cell phone? But not a home?
As we went to leave, I noticed a man had a garbage bag filled with Timberland boots, and was pairing them up on the floor. To sell? To share? To show off? I’m not sure. Interesting
There was a doctor's office at the far end of the room and a few people were trying to visit the doctor. A few tried to ask me about the clinic, but I regretfully could not help them because I had just arrived.
I washed off their trays and washed down the tables so I was not the one serving them food, but I believe they had a bowl of chili, a piece of bread, plus one more thing. I remember thinking that it would not have been enough to fill me up, but it was all that these grown men had to eat.
The men seemed to be a lot more friendly than the women.
At one point, an argument broke out between two men and I worried that it was going to become physical, but everyone there continued on with their meal like it was an ordinary event.
My visit to the drop-in was not unlike everyone else’s. I was not surprised to see men standing on the street and the sight of a large group of homeless people did not overwhelm me. I had an idea of what to expect because of the feedback taken from previous groups. If I remember anything from visiting the homeless shelter, it was the man who talked to me the longest near the end of our visit. He asked me what my name was and he remembered it because he brought it up continuously throughout the conversation. This was impressive to me because most people don’t initially remember that sort of thing or even care. His name sounded similar to Derrick, but when I asked him to repeat it, I was still not sure and so as not to be rude, I did not ask him a third time. He did most of the talking, telling me that a few bad decisions and this is what could happen. He told me that with the state the economy is in, homelessness could happen to anyone, even to me. He was sure that everything happens for a reason and if it was God’s will for him to be in this state, at this time, then he was going to be content. He seemed intrigued when I told him my major was creative writing and said that he thought writing was probably the most influential type of art form. He mentioned he had a family and I wondered where they were. Before he left, he tucked two gold colored necklaces he was wearing into his shirt and zipped up his coat for fear of being jumped. He was very polite, more so than a lot of men of greater means and when he left, he said that it had been nice sharing a conversation with me. I felt like my interaction with him was the most significant because he was someone who possessed a very positive outlook on life, despite his circumstances.
As a Miami Student I attend a school that is home to an assortment of stereotypes
These stereotypes range from
“Cocky Fraternity Boys”
Stereotypes define a person or place from an “outsiders” point of view
These stereotypes usually disappear once a situation is better understood.
But does anyone try to understand?
I have stereotypes
We all have them
Even if we try to ignore them
they are there.
The only way to erase stereotypes is to overcome them through
You walk by fraternity house and flashes of
Vineyard vine shorts
Consume your thoughts
You walk by a homeless shelter and flashes of
Tattered Wrangler jeans
Moth-eaten plaid shirts
Consume your thoughts
See they already have something in common.
You walk into a fraternity house and you witness
Huge dinner table of boys grubbing down
Fights over sports and girls
You walk into a homeless shelter and you witness
Huge dinner table of men grubbing down
Fights over sports and girls
Now there is a lot in common.
Yet definite differences remain.
Greek letters mounted on a stone outside the fraternity house
“No Loitering” sign mounted on crumbling paint outside the homeless shelter
Credit cards with charges that get billed to parents
Bills that will never be paid
BMWs, Lexus, Mercedes parked out front
Shopping carts full of month old newspaper
The material possession of these two groups of men may divide them but
Exist not only in fraternity brothers and sorority sisters but exist in
Homeless men and women
In no way are my observations stated in a manner to mitigate the incredible pain and hardship that is associated with homelessness. Rather, I hoped to convey the important message that the only thing that separates a guy in a fraternity house and a guy in a homeless shelter, are green pieces of paper with the faces of presidents. This seemingly small but incredibly significant difference should never instill superiority or foster stereotypes between two men who are someone’s brothers, husbands, fathers, or boyfriends.
Monday, February 23, 2009
After a flutter of emotions as we first approached the building—anxiety, apprehension, curiosity—my interest was peaked when a man, not much older than myself, shouted a partly indiscernible profanity directed at us.
“adlkjf…bitch!” A strange, unexpected slander that prompted an equally strange curiosity in me. Due to the rate at which the man was able to notice our approach, and then subsequently lash out at us, the insult was thoughtless and of no significant offense. Instead, the significance lies in its unabashed nature—the way in which the man seemed so detached from consequence that he was shameless and uncaring. Seeing as we ignored his affronts, the man faced no repercussions for his poor manners. To my wonder, an unmistakable envy swept over me; I resented his ability to channel his emotions into words without the obstruction of ill ramifications. To be in a position of such unadulterated liberty, free from the binds of courtesy, is a quality I would covet, if I had the courage to seize it. Envy was not an emotion I had expected to feel before the onset of our trip.
After entering and serving dinner to the residents, I was struck by several things. I would be lying to you if I did not recognize my utter inability to understand nearly anything anyone said. Many of the residents were timorous and quiet, but those who spoke were difficult to understand. I often found myself nodding and smiling at I know not what, but this gave me the added advantage of paying particularly close attention to their disposition. I did not know exactly what I was expecting, but I just presumed that the residents would have a somber, unhappy personalities. I mean, after all, many of them are poor, homeless drug addicts. Instead, the talkative ones spoke with jovial cadences that complemented their amiable faces. Only once did anyone show any dissatisfaction or unfriendliness towards me, and the one that did only seemed disappointed in that night’s food. I was shocked to see so many in such upbeat moods.
In all honesty, I had a strong aversion to the whole trip. By trying to “study”, document, and “experience” them, we are ignoring their humanity. I saw very little differences separating myself from any of those who frequent the Drop Inn. Their lives and upbringing may differ from mine, but they are still subject to the things that make us human: a conscience, human emotion, the plights of life. I felt creeped out and uneasy about putting such a separation between them and myself. It’s not about talking with them or mingling amongst their tables—that’s not what I mean; it’s about our motives when we went to visit them. We did not visit them simply to help them. Instead, our goal was more complicated. We intended to study and use them in order to fulfill our needs, which in this case, is a writing assignment. This agitation makes me apprehensive to return. I did not feel bad for them—I played no part in their current state and refuse to feel guilt.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I stepped into the noisy atmosphere at the Drop Inn, feeling as though I was obviously sticking out. Yet, after about ten seconds of taking it all in, I realized that nobody was even paying attention to what I was doing, which was standing nervously with my hands in my pockets gazing around the room. I had to make myself obvious, walking over to what I took to be the reception counter, if you could term it that, and wait for either of the two Drop Inn volunteers, sitting behind it and chatting with one another, to notice that I was clearly at a loss for what to do. “We're from Miami” somebody said behind me. “Thank you to that person,” I'm thinking.
OK. Four stations. One, two, three, four, count them. Bread, water, potato salad, and whatever is in the soup vat; it looks like beans and meat. And since everyone now decides to use the bathroom right at this crucial moment when I can have my pick at which station is the most desirable I'll abdicate that right for now and just people watch.
At the back of the room there's a bunch of people watching a flat screen television, of all things, but I can't tell what program it's showing. And there's a guy just to the right of the screen with an iPod just breaking it down. I mean breaking it down. With nobody in particular paying attention to him, except myself, of course, this guy looks like he's attempting some sort of a dance routine on America's Got Talent.
Enough people watching, as it's now time to start serving the first wave of hungry people. Under the cooks instructions I had filled up about five or six little dishes of potato salad so I didn't manage to back up the serving line, but every time somebody came through my station they always wanted the scoop that I was currently dolloping into the newest dish.
I thought, “Um, I just dished those other five out about thirty seconds ago, and I didn't poison them, you sure you don't want any of those?” But they would come through, look directly into my eyes as I dished it, then look directly at the salad. Eyes. Salad. Eyes. Salad. It was like some ninja mind game from Karate Kid I was clearly losing.
One scraggly looking old guy was very appreciative of my efforts. He cruised right through the line, over to me. “Potato salad! It ain't gonna smell too good in here tonight, HAHAHA!” I don't know why I found that so funny, maybe it was because I wasn't sitting at his table; I am so easily amused.
After the line finished up the famed portrait drawer with colored pencils showed up with his tribute to Amanda – I'm not sure if she was more flattered that he thought so much of her or creeped out that he had been watching her the whole evening while she was unaware. He lay the drawing down to put the meticulous finishing touches on the work, grabbing the attention of a few others who had finished eating. “We call him Picasso,” said one guy I hadn't noticed was there. It was a really nice picture of Amanda's face. The guy with the iPod had now moved over the entrance, still breaking it down as we left.
It came as no surprise that each of the women with me had been hit on at some point during the evening, but as we walked past a crowd loitering outside the Inn somebody yelled “Hey, guy!” at me. I'd been asked earlier why I hadn't cracked a smile all night. Unfortunately, the answer came about fifteen minutes later, as we left, at which time I'm pretty sure the guy with the iPod was still inside, still breaking it down.
Monday, February 16, 2009
One of the things I was most surprised about was the openness and honesty of some of the program members. They were happy to offer information about how drugs had affected their lives and what their progress was like. One man went into detail about how you have to have a group to support you if you want to recover. In a big way the Drop Inn isn't a roof over your head, its a community. This leads me to homeless culture. Is there such a thing and does it revolve around being homeless? I can't say that we spent enough time to find out.
Another thing I thought about was the role of appreciation. Some people were angry about the type of food being served or food that ran out. Are they aware that it is free? Do they know that in Latin America they would have chicken feet soup instead of beans of chili? Many shamelessly sought seconds before everyone else had eaten. As someone who obviously lacks the means to provide for themselves how can they be ignorant of the plight of others? While I am aware that mental illness accounts for some of the rudeness and bad attitudes, I still found some of it to be agitating.
As someone who has done a lot of volunteering and cultural immersion I didn't find the trip to be that eye opening. Rather it brought about the same questions that continually emerge in my mind.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
On the way to the Drop Inn I thought about the things that my classmates had said about their experiences there. I was trying to imagine what it would look like inside and I was getting nervous because of what I had previously heard about it. When we walked in it felt kind of awkward because we were not sure what to do or where to go. After a little bit it felt more comfortable. I was surprised to see that they had a big screen television inside. What I had pictured was not how it really was. We were told that they would not be as busy since it was warm outside; warm to them is above 40 degrees.
The men from the rehab program seemed so nice. Most of them were pretty chatty. They asked where we were from, what our majors were, and things like that. They seemed like they were interested in getting to know us. A few of them could really make me laugh. The men who came through the line were said thank you, smiled, asked how I was, and gave compliments. I was not expecting such kindness. Not all of them were friendly, some just kept their heads down but I did not come across any that were mean or rude to me.
We met a man who goes by the name Billy D. He was one of the men who were there through the drug rehabilitation program. He instantly befriended the three of us. I was told by one of the other men that Billy D. was the jokester of the group but in a good way. He had such a great sense of humor and he let us know that he was ready to fix up his life. He had plans. He had dreams. He told us that he got his nickname Billy D. because he is pretty much a ladies’ man. I could see that because he had a certain charm about him. We asked about his bracelet that he was wearing which read, “Love Wins.” I felt like this was very inspirational. He said that’s what he lives his life by, at least now he does. He also showed us his keychains that showed how long he had been sober from drugs. The next one to get would be glow in the dark. When he was talking to us about this I got this overwhelming feeling of pride for him. Billy D. clued us in on how the meetings they were required to go to were set up. They were great to share, talk, and give support to one another since your emotions begin to come back once you stop drugs. He was so great to talk to.
Billy D. asked me if we were going to come like once week or anything like that. I felt terrible. I was thinking about how we had not voluntarily decided to come and help but we had to come for a class. I wish it was closer to Oxford because then I would for sure come back to volunteer. I told him that we were not sure yet and he told me that God was blessing us right now.
The women at the Drop Inn did not seem like the men at all. There was not a friendly air about them at all. One of them seemed to get in a fight with a lot of people. We were informed that she was like this a lot.
The men from the rehab program told asked my eye color and my name again because they were going to give me something so I would never forget them. I was truly touched by the picture that Picasso drew of myself. Drawing is something that he really loves and you can tell. We asked if he had taken classes or anything for drawing before and he said no. It was very sweet and my drawing will be hanging on my wall in my dorm for the rest of the year for sure and I will for sure remember them.
Ever since leaving the Drop Inn I have noticed myself talking a lot about it to my friends and family. I can tell that this little act of kindness/homework assignment has definitely had an impact on me.
I do not feel like I looked at these people as a project but as an experience. I enjoyed helping them and getting to talk to them. You do not meet people like this at Miami so this was a valuable experience. After meeting these people they are definitely in my thoughts and prayers. I hope they all achieve what they need.
When we were walking to the van I could not help to notice that I felt safe walking down that street while just less than two hours ago I had felt afraid. It was a good feeling and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
It started to snow on the way there. The conversation flowed, though the farther back the harder to hear. Swerving between lanes, seatbelts secured. And the final destination. Small side street with brick buildings hugging tightly until the end. Dark and dimmed street lights. Our first human interaction was an obscure face accompanied by an every so friendly “bitch”, as we turned the corner into the building.
It was a big room, sectioned off into smaller. Rows of benches facing a large tv. Picnic table after picnic table. And then counters for the food to seal off the last part.
We wait for just a little, awkward, with looks from some and others just ignore.
I was water duty with Ambrose. He was serious about his job. Staff liked to joke with him. In a good way. Teamwork.
They would call off the benches by the tv in order after injured and over sixty and over fifty went. It would be a mad rush for a good spot in line. A long line. All at once. Some thank yous, some heads down. Some god bless, some short conversations.
“how are you?”
“I have a head ache”
“oh I’m sorry”
some would sneak seconds. But don’t get caught.
NO SECONDS. ARE YOU STUPID?? DIDN’T YOU HEAR NO SECONDS
Though there were low points there were conversations that were pleasant. How they can be so grateful to even have the option of free food, no matter how bad it is. Others were not so happy, especially when the ravioli changed to beans. One, inconsiderate. Still, majority thankful.
“how are you?”
“yeah, but its better than a bad ok”
it was interesting to watch. Interesting. The red//orange sauce warm sauce dripping down the lip, attaching to the grey beard. The concentration on the pencil to the paper. The ymca paper. The concentration there rather than on the food in front of him. I saw mumbles. Some downed their water and grabbed another. Avoid eye contact. Ashamed?
One thought that Ambrose was my kid. I calculated, I would have been thirteen when I had him. I am glad I do not have a kid.
Another kept coming back. He would keep getting water. And smile. And then oranges at the end.
“you really like those oranges don’t you”
“yeah” smile “whats your name?”
taken aback “nina”
“that’s a really pretty name”
“how old are you”
again, taken aback “eighteen”
“oh. Wow. You don’t look eighteen. You look older then eighteen”
“hahaa oh well thanks”
there were friends coming back.
A money exchange
A peace walker. Walked across the US. For peace.
An artist with YMCA paper
A jokester. Were his stories true? Maybe if they made sense
I wasn’t uncomfortable. As we watch them, they watch us. Maybe not exactly for a class, but for themselves. I have done thiat s before. I like to help. I like to talk, to be friendly. Why not? It makes me uncomfortable to look at the experience as if we were using them. So why think of it that way if it makes you uncomfortable?
When we were all done the residents cleaned washed everything down and we headed out the door, with a final may god bless you.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
As we pulled up we parked just down from the Drop Inn, the first spot we saw, basically. There were men hanging around outside a building which gave away the Drop Inn. As we made our way through the small crowd we were greeted by two men who were there to eat and headed outside to hang with their buddies. We crept inside, unsure of where to go or what to do, we stood at the front desk waiting to talk to a man that looked like he was in charge. I couldn't help but to look around the room as we waited for his attention, things were not exactly as I had expected them to be. It made me feel better that those that were in the shelter were dressed warm with coats and hats; their clothes did not look too badly tattered, especially not how I thought they were going to look. We were shown over to the serving counter where we met the man that was in charge of serving the food that night. He showed us each what to do, and I was put on soup. I didn't know how I felt about this spot because I heard stories from the day before where some guys became extremely angry when they began serving beans and ran out of the entree.
There was a lot of down time because dinner was running late tonight. As I stood behind the counter I felt as if it were a barrier that wasn't supposed to be crossed. It was a literal barrier, but I felt that the meaning of this barrier was so much greater. It almost felt more like a social class barrier and that is a bad way to look at things, but it's the truth.
We started serving food, and they always begin with the "disabled" people; I was very surprised at how many people were thrown into the "disabled" category. I felt, just based on looks, that some of the people who came through the line were not what you would consider disabled. Some of them seemed to have no physical defects at all, but maybe there was something more; perhaps some of these folks were diabetic or had some other disease that I was unaware of. As the night went on I couldn't help but smile; however, I wondered what the people that were coming through the line were thinking of my smile. I didn't want it to come off as a snobby smile, but instead as a sincere smile, because even though I could never fully understand their feelings and way of life I would certainly try my hardest to put it into perspective and make sense of it all. There were not very many women in the shelter, and most of them did not talk to me let alone even make eye contact.
There was one girl in particular, and I say girl because she looked to be no more than in her mid-20s. She did not seem familiar with the Drop Inn because she walked right on by the man at the end that was taking names. She did not speak through the line, and I was somehow intrigued by her so I watched her eat. She sat by herself and did not socialize with anyone else; after she gobbled her food as fast as she could it seemed, she was gone just as quickly as she had appeared. I guess I'll never know her story, but maybe it's an interesting one.
I also talked with one of the young men that was in the rehab program there at the Drop Inn. He had come to help me get the rest of the soup out of the pan before switching over to beans. He was not much older than myself, perhaps in his mid-20s, about 24 or 25 years old. He really began opening up to me and explaining his situation. I remember him telling me that he went to UC for 2 years as a robotics and computer major; he began getting into drugs and things just went down from there. He transferred to a school in Georgia for a quarter and then came back to Cincinnati to attend Cincinnati State, where he became even more heavily involved with drugs. He dropped out and was slumming it for a while before coming to the Drop Inn to start getting his life on track. He told me that he was from Sharonville, which is a town just outside of Cincinnati and that he went to Princeton High School. He said that he is trying to get his life back on track so that he go back to school and make something of himself. He was very nice and genuine when speaking with him and I felt bad because I realize that a lot of experimenting goes on in college, and this sort of thing could happen to any of my friends. They experiment once, think it's great, and continue to use until they are so addicted that they are using more than they should or dealing. It seemed to me like a very real situation, one that I could not view myself in personally, but some people I know. I was very proud of him for wanting to get his life back on track and return to college to make something of himself, it is very noble of him to admit that he indeed had a problem and was willing to face it head on and make changes for the better.
This was the only person at the Drop Inn that I spoke extensively with, but I got other remarks from patrons. Wanting to know where we were from and just thanking us for our services that evening. I felt that most of the people there were very accepting and thankful that we were there serving them and helping them out. Some of the men; however, liked us being there a little too much. There was much flirting going on especially since 3 of the 4 of us were girls; I noticed that some of the guys would talk to Amanda, Abbey and I and never say a word to Joe. I guess that is just how things go, not even there but anywhere in society, guys may be more inclined to talk to a female than a male.
All-in-all I felt that this was a great experience and I've been talking about it with my friends and family for the last few days, telling them of the things I saw and heard. I feel good for going to help them even though it was for class, it was something that I enjoyed and would do again. I was always so afraid of the homeless people because I would always see them begging outside of Bengals and Reds games and they kind of freaked me out. But seeing them from this perspective and in this different atmosphere my fears have somewhat dissipated. I realize now that I should not take anything in my life for granted because one day it could all be taken away.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Once we make it inside the surprisingly clean building, the brain experiences stimulus overload. Too many people, objects, and actions occurring at the same time to observe them all. The homeless blend in well with the workers so it's very difficult to figure out who to talk to. Throw in the fact that there is a rehab program with its members working in this small area as well, it becomes nearly impossible. So we go for the safe bet, wait for the man behind the counter right inside the front door to look up from his papers and ask him. A couple minutes later, once the man at the counter finds us important enough or perhaps distracting enough to address, he points us to a nicely dressed, smiling woman who is sitting in a folding chair near the food. In between a conversation she is having with several scattered people, a funny one it seems, she directs us to an older gentleman who is actually standing with the food.
The older man begins to tell us the different duties and explains to me how they call the people up to the line. When I look into his face as he speaks, I can't help but be reminded of my grandpa because of the slow, precise way he speaks. His sock-hat with a bill also helps this persona since my grandpa wears similar hats. He tells me that the handicap are called up first to get food, then the few women that are present, men who are 60 years old or older, and then they start releasing the rest of the men row by row from the benches. Although he tells me all of this at the beginning, he takes it upon himself to keep my updated as each group passes through the line.
Before anyone is called up to the line for food, I am quickly distracted by a small, old, Native American woman that shuffles in the door alone with a small cart of random objects. She keeps her head down and is almost swallowed whole by the strikingly white, fluffy coat she is wearing. Nevertheless, she is unmistakeably Native American - dark, flat face with shadowy grey eyes; her silvery black hair coiled, zigzag-pinned to the back of her head. I notice that she has a deep indentation across the bridge of her nose as if she has been hit with something. I can't help but wonder what happened to her and how she ended up here.It shocks me how many people get in line when the handicap are called up. I start to wonder if I misinterpreted which group was up but when I ask the man behind the food counter with us, he reassures me that all of them are handicap. A lot of the people seem to be pretty healthy so I became curious as to how they determine who is handicap.
Most of the people that come through the serving line are quite friendly saying hello and asking how the day was going. Very few people act that way in normal situations so I almost swell up with pride for being around such friendly, caring people - as cheesy as that may sound. One man blesses me for coming down to help out. My cheeks fill with blood a bit for being blessed for doing something so simple as filling up water cups.
I'm astonished by how smoothly the lines of people come through. There is an incident of someone not waiting his turn sporadically but for the most part, everyone cooperates even if they are in the last row. It was also nice to see a community type feeling inside the building. There were definitely outsiders scattered throughout but a lot of people new each other. If twisted into a different light perhaps, it almost gave a "awkward family reunion" vibe to the meal. This friendly vibe is reinforced when an older man comes up with a sketch he has been drawing of me all evening and asks to see what color my eyes are so he can finish it and give it to me. They call him Picasso. Perhaps I will bring Picasso more art supplies on my next visit...
-lots of different crazy hats
-everyone was surprisingly clean
-almost everyone had heavy, warm coats
-about 95% African American I think
-only a handful were women
Friday, February 6, 2009
"This way, this way. You'll be serving the meals over here. We will need four of you: one for the water, ravioli, the salad, then the bread. Put on the gloves. You have to serve starting around 6:20," a man with a stocking cap on top of his head said.
Alright. Well things worked out that I was the bread girl. Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows. Regardless, I was there. I swear those were some of the most challenging minutes of the entire nights. We all looked around still not quite sure how to weigh out the situation. Tick, tick, tick. The time just would not pass by.
Out of nowhere I heard someone yell out over what looked like a congregation gathered for an early Sunday morning mass. Immediately, they started flocking towards us. Ready or not, here they came.
Setting out individually wrapped pieces of bread was a first for me. An entire tub full of bread seemed more than enough to feed everyone gathered at the Inn that night. I started setting out the bread on the tray, allowing the people passing by to have the choice to pick the best piece of bread.
Plastered on my face a smile. Maybe I was too afraid not to smile because if I stopped, I'd get too caught up in what was actually going on. The wave of homelessness/need/guilt would swallow me whole, making me feel sorry for them when really that was the last thing they needed.
"One or two," they would say. On the spot, I looked at Jack. "Umm, I think just one," I replied. Their face told me one slice was not enough. When is one ever enough?
"Keep moving, keep moving! I said KEEP MOVING!" My eyes darted to the other side of the room. Two men were yelling at one another. Apparently one man was eating too slowly and the other wanted to sit down and eat at that exact spot even though multiple seats were open. The security guard came over, the same security guard that I thought wasn't real. I thought he was a phony because I thought he found the old security coat he wore on his back.
Words were flying, attention was drawn and out he went, head pointed down to the ground not ready to bear the cold night's air.
The time did pass by quickly. The face started to become friendlier, maybe I'd get a thank you or two. I started getting more and more looks as the night went on, that was for sure. With almost all of the people being males, they all were extremely happy to have female presence in the room. It wasn't until one younger guy in particular became overbearing, in my opinion, that I started to regret smiling.
The few women who were there brought with them a mix of emotions. More than anything, they wanted me to hand them the bread. They didn't want to have the choice; they wanted me to make it for them. It made me think about their previous relationships. Could these women have been in abusive relationships.
The one women that caught my eye was wearing blue eye shadow; she was the only woman wearing any make up as far as I could tell. I was so caught up in the color blue that it made me wonder if she put a lot of thought into what color she wore on her eyes or if she just put on whatever she could find in the single plastic bag she carried.
From the old squeaky chairs that the workers folded up after dinner to the signs that covered colorless/lifeless walls, the Inn offered all these people something. What that something is might change from person to person, but it offered a type of consistency for each person that walked though its doors. Regardless of the mistakes people make in their lives or the guilt each one feels on an almost daily basis, the Inn offers warmth and a meal. The warmth might be limited and the food not especially appetizing, but all the people know that the Inn is always somewhere they can turn and possibly even sparking a type of optimism in those who go searching for it.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
When we walked in the door, a man made a peculiar face and muttered a few profane words, which I think were directed toward us. I could be wrong. He was probably high.
I was in charge of the main course, which was initially ravioli. A lot of them would ask for more in the bowl, so I would always fill it to the top. Once it ran out, we had to switch to beans. “Where’d the other stuff go?” people would ask. I felt guilty telling them it was gone. Maybe I served the first-comers too much. After a while, someone said, “Please stop serving this nasty stuff!” At least he said please.
“Don’t end up where I am,” an older man said. I didn’t know how to respond, so I told him I appreciated it.
Almost everyone thanked me. As for the ones who didn’t, I could see that they were ashamed to be in their position. I wish none of them thanked me. I don’t think we needed or even deserved to be thanked, so I would say “no problem." We were just handing them food. We didn’t buy it, we didn’t prepare it, and if we weren’t there, someone else would have served it. These people deserved to have food just like anyone else.
Standing behind the food stand secluded us from the rest of the visitors. I worried that after a while, they probably started to feel like animals. They’re just like anyone else—just less fortunate. I was happy towards the end when we had a chance to talk to some of them.
I was surprised that so many of them had a sense of humor. Someone started telling us a joke, but it was difficult to understand him. I kept hearing “One, two, three,” over and over again. We all laughed. I’m sure it was a good joke. A lot of them were very funny.
A man sketched pictures of Taylor and Ambrose. He used a pencil. The papers were the backsides of paper restaurant menus. I hoped he didn’t look at the front. I want him to have real art supplies.
Another man claimed he had walked across the country, from Las Angeles to New York City, and then to Washington DC. I believe him.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
I thought it was fear of the people standing around
Boy was I wrong....
It was my ignorence telling me that not all things that look bad are bad
It was God letting me know how thankful I should be...
And I know...
As I stood there behind this counter and I looked as these people was stirring around
I thought the feeling of danger but I didn't feel it
Should I have?
I seen the pain the felt in their eyes but the smiles on their faces were misleading Or maybe thats just what inside I wanted to believe
are they sad or are they happy?
Tattered clothing, bags filled with their whole lives, and hungry stomachs
Was this what they wanted...is this truely who they were meant to be?
I think not
In my sense I believe these people are lost souls who never found their paths
I believe that God had helped them but for them it wasnt the help they needed
does this make them less accepting?
I learned not everyone is lucky and that some don't even need luck
But everyone deserves equal oppertunity and one way or the other these are the ones who lost
these aren't homeless people they are God's night walkers
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
In the dark and the cold, an empty city or so it seemed.
Driving around in circles of squares
Getting increasingly frightened and skeptical
Worried as to where we would park, do we bring in our bags? Or leave them in the car?
Several times we passed by the Drop Inn Shelter, each time, men gathered, holding beer cans or cigarettes.
“is that guy peeing on the trashcan? Um okay lets go.” As we passed, continuing on our driving mission to find a CLOSE parking place.
Eventually, we parked directly in front of the Drop Inn.
Stepping out of Peggy’s truck, the stench of urine surrounded us.
Men, mostly, loitered outside, however as we walked past them and inside, I was not as uncomfortable as I’ve been in the past when in situations I was unfamiliar with.
Bright lights illuminated ivory colored tiles.
The large room smelled of twice baked beans.
There were men sitting at the various tables in front of the “buffet”.
On the far side of the room, benches provided seating for those not eating yet, their bags crunched underneath them.
A big TV aired a program for the shelter drop inns to enjoy while waiting for their meal.
I served stale, cardboard feeling bread, individually bagged.
Wendy served chips next to me. Everyone wanted the chips. There were many attempts at a second and even third bag.
While handing out the paper bread, I was asked how many earrings I have and what color my eyes were. I answered with a smile.
Towards the end of serving time, I was informed that I was being drawn by a professional. “Picasso” I called him.
The artist’s sketch was all in pencil, however my eyes and lips were shaded in with green, blues and pinks.
I shook his hand and requested he sign my portrait. I don’t think I’ve ever been so flattered or moved.
We left, got back in the car and I couldn’t help but smile.
The four of us going there and serving those people dinner made their night and was more rewarding than I can put into 300 words.
One drinking from a bottle in a brown paper bag.
Boarded up buildings.
Loitering takes on a whole new meaning.
We walk past the men. A little apprehensive.
Greeted with smiles.
Put on gloves, man the line.
It’s bean night. Apples, chips, beans, and water. An evening meal.
One scoop of beans in each bowl. Not too much. They have to last.
Can I have more? All the way to the top?
But you might spill it.
No I won’t.
If you’re sure, here you go.
Can you give me more of the meat? I like lot’s of meat.
Sure, I’ll do my best, here’s a big chunk just for you.
Rows of tables full of people. Quietly eating.
Most in their own world.
They wait at benches watching a big screen T.V.
It’s very orderly. No pushing. No cutting in line.
Do you work here?
I’m in the program. I’ve been here for three months. I had to want to be here. We have classes all day but we have to serve three meals a day. They do it so we can be examples to them (nods head toward crowd). We are supposed to give them hope.
Why are they all here?
They have lost hope.
Where is their family?
They are detached from their family. This place has a rehab program. When you do drugs you end up breaking the law to keep getting the drugs.
Do you take clothes donations? That man’s coat is pretty bad and it’s really cold outside.
We had a problem with bed bugs. They stopped taking clothes.
Are those two guys volunteers?
(They are young, white, well dressed and look as out of place as we do)
They live here. They just came yesterday. We had three empty beds and now they are filled. The young black guy next to them is new also. They look a little wide eyed. They’re just checking it out. They aren’t sure what is really going on.
Did they do something?
Probably got arrested. I got arrested too.
I’m from Alabama.
How did you get to Ohio?
My sister lives in Dayton. I came to see her. They don’t have anything like this in Dayton so I am in Cincinnati. Where are you from?
We’re from Oxford. Miami University.
Are you the teacher?
(I laugh) No, I’m a student, a very old student.
Can I have seconds?
The lady in charge says wait until 7. Sorry. Come back and you’ll be first in my line.
I see your hat; did you serve in the military?
Yeah, I was a pilot in Vietnam.
My husband is in the Navy.
I bet he hates it.
No, not really.
The lady in charges asks if we need assistance when we leave.
“Do we need assistance?”
She says we’ll be fine.
A security guard waits by the door as we leave.
We have a few coats in our closet we don’t really use, maybe next time I’ll bring them.