Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm a Republican

A stereotype would be that a person would go into a situation like this and just expect nothing and at the end be completely moved by what he/she saw that night. I went in with almost the same feeling. I expected little but got a little more. I wouldn't say I fit the stereotype exactly, but there was definitely something there that I didn't expect, humanity.

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


“You married?”

“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


We walked into a large room with the dining area ahead and a large television in the corner to the left.

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

“Selfish Bitches”


“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

Human passion




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

The Place Was Clean, Though.

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

We call him Picasso

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

A drop in impression

Visiting the Drop Inn reminded me that the U.S is structured in such a way that white middle and upper class people do not have to witness or have knowledge of those less fortunate than them. The federally funded housing projects of the 40s ensured that people like myself would only have to look upon their neatly manicured lawn. Driving into the poorer area of the city everyone seems to cringe. Perhaps subconsciously we feel we aren't meant to see this. The feeling of not belonging persisted as we volunteered. I noticed other volunteers or workers (especially the women) making a point of avoiding us or pretending we weren't there. I don't understand why space has become defined by class. Why is it when I go into a convenience store in my local ghetto the cashier asks me cynically if I'm lost? I hate thinking that my socioeconomic status makes me belong somewhere.

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

"Love Wins," a portrait, and a glow in the dark keychain

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

The Night I Didn't Know How To Feel

Friday, February the 13th. 4:47 PM

Cliche, right? At least the date is. Whatever.

First off, I'm driving a bus that looks so ridiculous, I am laughing by myself driving this gigantic lard of a van as I make my way to the Student Center at Miami University to pick up the other two girls in my group. I want one of them to take a picture of me, but figured it could get awkward since they don't know my sense of humor - and I have class with them everyday for the next 3 or so months.
Anyways, driving to the mysterious Drop Inn center everyone has been reflecting on is painless. The van doesn't tip over like I thought it would, and I'm alive enough to be writing on the blog, so I guess we didn't die. Ha. Joke...

Right. So, we end up in front of the Drop Inn, and, as expected, people are loitering outside. I know this because previous Drop Inn goers have expressed how strange it is. I guess it wasn't so strange when that's what you're expecting.

It was only around 40 degrees outside this night. It occurred to me that if it had been colder, maybe not so many people would be standing outside. Nor would the Drop Inn be so vacant.

By vacant, you must understand that it was fairly crowded for the dining room-esque room we walked into.

There were little church pews in rows in front of a nicer TV than I have in my house at home. For a homeless shelter, this was ritzy. Young and old men and women were watching a standard news station while others sat at tables silent, laughing, conversing, or staring blankly at the three blondies that just strolled in. (That would be referring to my classmates and I).

It reminded me of a dining hall at Miami. Except instead of homogenous, upper-class, predominantly white undergraduates, there were just people who had something in common; for some reason, they were there to eat, because they didn't have a home, or perhaps they were merely there for lack of income, or for 20 plus of the men, were in the Rehabilitation program.

Then we met Billy D. Kevin is his real name. But he's a "mack daddy." (He described himself this way). I believed him. He had a swagger about him, he had charm, and he had a good sense of humor. What surprised me even more though, was his ambition. This guy wasn't "living the life," by any means, but in my book, he was THE MAN. He wants to move to Florida--no too many old people (so he said). Maybe South Carolina. I want him to have everything he wants in the world--and more. This guy came right up and asked us about ourselves, he was a great conversationalist, and I feel like I made a new friend. He was wearing a navy and white striped long sleeve polo shirt that at one point in the night, had chili dribbled down the front. I would normally tell a friend this, but for some reason, it felt inappropriate. This guy was in such a good mood, I didn't want to ruin it even if I was helpin' the guy out with some food on his shirt.

There was a laundry station near the opposite exit door. It looked like there was a washer and dryer piled on top of each other with a quarter slot on each. I wondered how often these machines were utilized.

Many of these people were very nice, others were more gruff. But isn't that how the entire world is? Why do I need to be judging these people? For all I know, in this economy, I could wind up at the Drop Inn.

Which leads me to another random thought.

I fricken wanted some of this chili. It looked awesome, and I'm not being sarcastic. I mean - yes - I was hungry...but it looked good. There were spaghetti noodles, beans, ground meat, etc. It was hard not to have a taste. I DIDN'T...don't worry. I don't steal from the homeless...but I felt like one of them. I didn't feel especially out of place or superior. In fact, I had a good time mingling with these guys.

I always knew that girls came with baggage, cattiness, and animosity. Women are said to be more aggressive drivers than men, girl dogs are more apt to fight with each other than boy dogs, and there was no exception at the Drop Inn.

I don't know her name, but she and a woman with a bandana wrapped around her head were cussing at each other while getting their chili.

"Fuck ass, fuck ass fuck ass"

The bandana woman said it with passion, but she wasn't yelling. The other woman had never smiled in her life I don't think. Her face was stuck angry. She was bitter and cold and confrontational.

And sure enough, it wasn't just a self fulfilling prophecy. She announced to the entirety of the Drop Inn that she was "on a search."

The men I was talking to started saying things like "here she goes" "isn't she going off a little early?" "here it comes" "oh now she's on her search"

At first I thought she was claiming to be on a surge. I wondered what a surge was.

Good one, Amelia. Search. S-E-A-R-C-H. Duh.

She had two blankets. One had apparently been misplaced. She starts screaming at the top of her bitter, confrontational lungs that someone had "moved her shit." Within two minutes, she was scolded by two people who appeared to be running the place. One man, one woman. The woman really got after her. I felt bad for the two of them.

I'm not sure if I felt bad for the woman who was going on a search for her blanket because she clearly had some mental illness or problem, or because people were shutting her down. I felt bad for the woman in authority for having to deal with the psycho.

Turns out, her damn blanket was three seats away--probably where she left it. She continued yelling after she had found it. "I got two blankets..." "I don't want nobody moving my shit"

I was staring. The whole time. I tried to smile at the blanket girl when she looked at me again. She never smiled back. I wasn't offended.

Leaving the Drop Inn wasn't terribly easy. I wanted to talk more. But, at the same time. There was a good sense to be leaving as well.

All I know is that, I don't feel comfortable being forced to judge. Well, maybe I'm not being forced - but I ended up judging by default. I guess I can't beat myself up about it. It's human nature. Right?

Friday the 13th of February this year was an experience. An experience I enjoyed. Will I go back? Probably not. But that's just me being honest, not mean or rude.

I have no way to end a blog post. I feel judgmental and rude. I enjoyed my experience, in all honesty will probably not return, but don't feel extremely comfortable writing about these people I live with in the world.

P.S. Billy D is my boy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

we dropped in to the drop in

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?”

“good, you?”

“I have a head ache”

“oh I’m sorry”


some would sneak seconds. But don’t get caught.


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?”

“ok, you?”

“just ok?”

“yeah, but its better than a bad ok”

“that’s true”

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

Young, old.

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

A Night with the Drop Inn

As I drove from Oxford to the city there was much chatter in the van. We were talking about where we were from and other things about ourselves. Eventually the question arose... "what did everyone think it was going to be like?" Everyone had their one ideas about what to expect when we pulled up and we had been informed by others who had previously gone about their experiences.
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

Apprehension to Pride

Apprehension shivers through the body when someone is instantly thrown into re-evaluation of all of his or her values. It was such a foreign feeling to step out of the van on to the ice covered downtown sidewalk where many homeless stood waiting for their dinners. Should I make eye contact or should I not? Surely I should smile if I do make eye contact whether on purpose or not because that is how I would treat any other person I pass on the street. If I attempt to make eye contact though - wont it be obvious and then they might think I pity them and if I do pity them, is it offensive or compassionate? So many questions and thoughts dart through mind even before we make it through the front door of the decrepit building.

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...

Random details:
-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

The Drop Inn...

Eyes darting, right to left, up then down. Repeat. Immediately the tension was in the air. We'd crossed the line, in an unknown, unfamiliar, uncomfortable environment. The body language, the whispers, the overall atmosphere told all of us who walked in from the unbearable cold that they immediately became uncomfortable.

"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.
As the we pulled up in our Miami Red Minivan, the crowd of those loitering in front came into view.  We gradually made our way to door, unsure of what we were about to encounter.  Expectedly, there were a number of words and mumbling generated towards us strange looking individuals, who were obviously unfitting to this environment.  We continued inside, many experiencing fear begin to overwhelm their thoughts.  However, behind this curtain of fear, in my mind, sadness and the desire to help took the stage.
After battling the chaos that we found inside and discovering the man in charge of the volunteers, we were directed where to go.  Before taking up my new occupation as bread distributor, Rebecca and I asked to use a restroom.  We were led up the back stairs, which seemed to be somewhat guarded and a VIP area.  As we passed through the threshold, the comment, "What?  You ladies don't wanna use the one downstairs?" followed by exaggerated chuckles.  Thankfully, the small, closest-sized bathroom with an ancient door and a tarnished handle, was still clean and not as unpleasant of an experience as I had imagined.  However, I began to draw a picture in my mind of the bathroom that must exist downstairs for the rest of the guests at the Inn.  My stomach could only handle a few thoughts, and I had to erase that image from my mind.
After our adventure, we went back behind the serving area and put on clear, plastic gloves, that stuck to your hands, suffocated them, and left an unusual odor on my skin.  As I was told my job and we stood waiting for the first group permitted to get in line, I peered around at my surroundings.  I took great notice of the fact that most of the skin was dark, with only a handful of white men.  Ages ranged from 18 to what must have been 90.  There was one short, quiet Native American women that seemed almost as out of place as we were.  Also, there was one white girl, probably in her early 20's, that carried a backpack, did not look dressed for the weather, scarfed down her food as quickly as she was able, and went on her way.  Perhaps she was passing through.  Maybe she got kicked out of her home.  I wish I knew her story.
As the first group got called up, they eagerly picked up their trays and scrambled towards the food.  Most were grateful for this nourishment, especially since they managed to get up in front, before the soup ran dry and the beans appeared.  As people made their way to the end of the line, I would hand them one slice of bread, which never seemed to be enough.  There was constant pleas for one more piece.  It broke my heart when I had to reply, "I'm sorry sir, I can only give you one."  Immediately, I wanted to run to the store and return with a Wonderbread truck filled with loaf after loaf and pass them out.  Bread to them seemed to be like a sacred drug.  One man in a gray, hat with two furry flaps over his ears, stood at the end of the line to keep order.  In addition to his role almost as a security guard over the food, there were a few times when he directed me to give an extra slice of goodness.  Those that were his close friends would ask me, "Please, can I have two?" and the hat man would lean over, look around to make sure no one could see, and whisper, "It's ok, give this guy another."  I felt as if I were performing an illegal act.  
It seemed rather odd when some would pass by and refuse a piece of bread.  Also, another lady said, "Do you have any wheat?" then looked at her friend and explained, "You gotta eat the wheat bread.  The white stuff will kill ya.  I'm not gonna die from eating white bread all the time.  That stuff is bad."  It was terrible, but in my mind I thought that most likely, the cause of her demise would not be due to eating a few slices of white bread.  If I were in her situation, I would have a great number of other things besides white bread to worry over.  
A large number of people took their bread thankfully and often expressed their appreciation towards me.  I would simply smile, nod, and say something along the lines of, "Yup," or "Of course."  One young man, probably around the age of us servers, requested that he have a piece of rye bread instead of white, which I happily distributed because most, "Could not possibly stomach that shit."  (As one man put it when I attempted to present him with rye bread)  When I gave the young man his requested rye roll, his eyes lit up and he said, "Girl, you the nicest shawty I've met.  Over there smilin and all and givin me this bread."  I never would have thought that giving him the unpopular rye bread could mean so much.
There were certainly times when people were angry, aggressive, and unappreciative.  One man went along the line screaming swear words, with his friend ahead trying to settle him down.  At one point, it seemed as though a fight was going to break out, but it was immediately taken care of.  Another man angrily described to Joe that the portion of his potato salad was, " a child's serving.  You puttin in half a scoop?  What is this?"  I think the most hostility that was expressed was after the beans were brought out.  No one wanted the beans.  One man tried to make a joke out of it and said, "It's not gonna smell good in here tonight!"  He saw me laugh, and called me out on it.  He loved it though.
One man continually walked up to get food, without being questioned.  Then, I realized he was helping to serve those that were handicap. On one of his trips up someone asked him who the tray was for this time, and he pointed to an old white man, with a gray beard, slouched posture, and was walking aimlessly in the opposite direction.  The man with the tray pointed to him and said, "He's drunk again.  Gotta get him some food."   The one who had inquired who it was intended for laughed and said, "That old man's always drunk."
There were times when people would try to sneak in the line for a second time.  This was no doubt against the rules.  Another rule was to eat fast and move along, in order to make room for others.  The system was strictly enforced.  While everyone was eating, the room was filled with laughter, gossip, yelling, and pure talking.  It seemed as though many even had their own "group."  In a some ways, it was similar to a high school cafeteria.
Those that we served were quite aware of their status in society compared to ours.  Many realized this, and it seemed that some knew we might be afraid, so they tried to be friendly.  One man, probably in his mid-twenties, asked where I went to school.  When I answered his question, he reacted by saying, "OOOOh. You're a University girl."  There were a few more lines of conversation, but he went on his way to eat.
We certainly did not seem to belong in the Drop Inn.  However, it became clear that even though these people did not have homes and slept on the street, they are human beings just like everyone else.  They have their close friends, their have good laughs, they have problems, and enjoy a decent meal.  I would definitely go back.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Drop Inn

As we drove to the Drop Inn I wondered what we were about to experience. I didn't know what to expect.

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

What I seen and Who they are

As We pulled up a strange feeling came upon me
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 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

My Drop Inn Experience by Casey Ellerman

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.  

Peggy's visit to the Drop Inn

A man urinating at the side of the garbage can.
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.
Finally done.
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.