One of the people who serves the homeless in KC wrote about his experiences and said that it seemed that in this life we are just walking each other home. I love that comment. Walking each other home. We are all in this together and need to take care of each other.
While in Montana this summer, I learned of a woman who makes Sunday dinner for the homeless in our small town. She, her boyfriend and young son make a meal and serve up to 20 people who show up at the city park on Sunday evening. I volunteered to help out. I’ve been helping for a few weeks and will be heading back to KC for the winter soon. It makes me sad that some of these people will be spending the winter in the Montana cold. Here, where they measure the snow in feet not inches. There are a couple of shelters but are at capacity. The few motels in town that will rent by the month are full of families of working poor. Affordable housing is so scarce.
Tonight I witnessed the best of humanity. There is a small group of homeless who I have met on Sundays. All names have been changed. Ben and Christy, a young couple who look for work and try to get by. Christy had an opioid addiction but is now clean from opioids. She is like the mother of the group. She’s as cute as can be. She thinks she found a job at a motel so we celebrated that. Her boyfriend, Ben, is the most polite and sweetest kid I’ve ever met. He was flying a sign today to make a little money. He said he was offered a piece of chicken from someone; he was snacking on that and then someone offered him 3 pieces of pizza. He said he wasn’t really hungry but he was grateful for the offer so he ate a piece while they were watching “so they knew I appreciated it.” That almost made me cry. He wasn’t hungry for Sunday dinner since he had eaten twice but, he was there for the fellowship and to make sure Christy got a meal. He showed up with a six pack of Natty Light from the money he collected. He gave a can to each of the old timers, Pops, who is probably in his 60s; Gabe, who is around 35; Max, who is probably around 55 and has been a road dog for most of his life; and Johnny who is probably in his 30s. Sometimes it’s hard to guess age as living outside takes its toll. So, yes, sometimes if you give money to someone flying a sign, they may buy alcohol. They know they are fighting demons but most people judge those demons without looking in the mirror. And with the rough life on the streets, I don’t begrudge a few guys drinking 1 Natty Light each. Max said he is 10 years sober on Wednesday.
I got to the park before the main meal arrived so I got to sit and talk with this group for a bit. I learned that Vick, a youngster who has a drinking problem, was arrested last night. They believe he was working on his bike late at night and then when the police stopped to question him, he became belligerent. He’s in jail for now. Not his first time so we’ll see what happens. The group has all tried to counsel him that you don’t resist arrest!
I also learned the city had kicked them out of the park so they are shifting around from here to there trying to find a place to be. They, of course, don’t want to talk about where they are but it saddens me that with the abandoned buildings and empty land, there is no public land within walking distance of town that they can pitch a tent. I understand that many people equate homeless people with crime but this group is different. They are a family. They always clean up after our meals and they never fail to thank us for being there. They keep a clean camp so they can’t be cited with littering.
Ben had also picked up half smoked cigarette butts while he was flying his sign and handed them out to each of the smokers of the group. That may seem like an odd thing but I saw it as a loving act of him taking care of his family. Trust me, cigarettes are not what is going to be what kills them. They make sure each person is fed. Packing up to-go containers for those that haven’t seen but will likely run into tonight or tomorrow.
We left a few containers of food at the park shelter for those that may stop by there later. It’s been cold enough at night that the food will keep for a while. This group doesn’t want to be around those who are using meth or heroin, which are HUGE problems in Montana. They are trying to better themselves or at least get by. Mental illness is always an issue with the homeless. Some people are just not employable. We need to deal with that.
One of the men asked me to mail a letter to his aunt for him. He wanted to let her know he is ok. She only lives 15 miles from where we are but he has no phone and this is the only way to contact her. Things we take for granted are a production when you have nothing. He received an envelope from someone and bought a stamp. He wrote the letter on a scrap of paper with a scrap of a pencil. He asked me to post it for him since it’s a long walk to the post office. More things I’ve never thought about.
They said that they do not have a meal on Wednesdays or Fridays so I said I would bring something. I asked Ben and Christy if they had any requests and immediately Ben said “sloppy Joes, Pops has been wanting a sloppy Joe for a long time.” Again, almost made me cry. The love and care they have for each other is something from which we could all learn.
I got hugs from everyone and Johnny gave me a big hug and told me he loved me and he prays for me. I was speechless. That was the sweetest thing ever. As I have learned from the wonderful people of Free Hot Soup and our friends on the streets, these people are not homeless. They are houseless.