Saturday, March 31, 2007

good night and good luck

We run a couple of programs that are funded only during the cold weather months. Yesterday was the final night of the season which means a lot of folks won't have a place to sleep tomorrow. I dropped by to see how things were going around dinnertime; I wanted to say goodbye to a couple of friends and thank some others for working long hours all winter long.

I was sad to see how full the place was. Mostly because in the back of my mind all I can think is that these hundred or so people aren't going to have this place tomorrow. There is always a special BBQ on the last night, and there was a round of applause from the guests as they got in line to get their food. I wasn't eating but I clapped too, a forced cheerfulness that didn't quite seep under my skin.

I overheard several folks saying their goodbyes, swapping tentative destinations; corners or parks where they might find each other over the weekend. A few were trading belongings, the guy with two razors gave one to the guy with an extra pair of socks, and so on.

The mood was somber. It's not like the last night at camp where the mood is buzzing with what comes next and who's doing what, this was a reluctant sort of happiness; happy that they've got full bellies but behind the smiles was weariness. It's been a long season already, and it's not going to get any easier for most. It must be so exhausting. Each day must feel like years.

I was getting ready to leave when there was a bit of commotion. It seems that either facing the next unknown was a bit too much, or perhaps it was a last hurrah, and that mixed with heroin is a wicked combination. Staff called 911 while he was convulsing on the bathroom floor. An overdose, intentional or not still causes the same physical reaction; I've not seen it a lot but the few times I have it's sickening at best. I had M with me so when things went south I couldn't stick around, and besides, once they get in the bus we don't often hear how things turned out except for word of mouth.

Sometimes this place is no place for a baby, some might say it never is. There were one or two other kids there with their mom who didn't have the same luxury of having somewhere else to go. M didn't see inside the bathroom so there weren't any questions about why that man was on the floor. I was happy not to have to find an answer. Even still, we were both rather quiet on the drive home.

My mood was somber tonight and I still can't sleep; I lay comfortably in my bed with clean sheets, my child tucked in her bed and J nearby. I know where I am going to sleep tomorrow, and it seems that that alone should make me feel less unsure, but the truth is it all seems muddled, BBQ mixed with pain and suffering, potato salad on the side.


karrie said...

I'm heartened to know that they have community and friendship, and will continue to look out for one another....but much injustice at not being able to take something as basic as a safe, warm place to sleep for granted.

Lucia said...

I no longer know what to say in a world where assistance is seasonal. I am so tired of all of us going on from day to day and year to year with what is a ridiculous level of caring for others, where we mete assistance out in dribs and drabs. What is wrong with us?

Tabba said...

Heavy, heavy stuff & I get it to a certain extent. It's hard weighing these things next to each other. You having (and you give) next to so many who have so little. And in the midst of a meal then, something so extreme happening to another human being.

I don't think anyone with a heart would have left there feeling particularly "happy" & I bet you anything M could feel that undertone of sadness in the air. That kind of thing is palpable. And that, to me, just speaks of her great spirit & the influence of J and you on her.
Such a big, old soul in a little teeny body. That is just mind-blowing to me :)

Susanne said...

It is incredible that people are supposed to sleep on the streets because it's now April and officially warmer weather.

I don't think that there is something similar here in Germany. I sincerely hope that everyone who wants a place to sleep can have one however crowded the shelters may be.

But funding is dwindling here as well.

And I agree with tabba.

Mrs. Chicky said...

The sleepless nights should fall on those who don't do anything to help the problem.

I hope you'll get the rest you deserve.

meno said...

The oddness of a seasonal homeless shelter really stikes me. Is it okay to ignore the homeless unless they might freeze? Very odd.

Anonymous said...

I think I would find it so hard to leave people, knowing they will have no place comfortable and safe to stay, going home to my safe, warm, clean bed. On the other hand, you can go home, knowing you've done more than most people in your country to help another human, to hold out your hand and care about someone.

Thailand Gal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thailand Gal said...

Okay. Admittedly, I just got up and barely even have two sips of tea in me ~ but the absurdity of that event is just glaring like some bright neon bulb.

A BBQ and a session of applause before what?

Strikes me as something similar to the last meal before a death sentence.

Sometimes I really hate capitalism.

I'm probably overreacting. Nevermind.


~Chani, on the edge of nausea

jen said...

chani, i know. i was sitting there going "what the freaking hell are we celebrating?" and yet it's all the staff know to do, to give them a last good meal before sending them off to muddle through on their own. no one was celebrating last night.

it is really screwed up.

jen said...

one more thing - the guest clap because they are thankful to the staff, for five months every year they stayed warm and dry. they know the bullshit is not our fault, but it doesn't make it any less bullshit, does it?

i thought of how i'd be acting, if i'd been living there w/ M and had no place to go today. i'd be huddled in the corner weeping, scared, begging. i think i would be.

it amazes me how strong some are. or better stated, how very little they've come to expect out of this life.

Oh, The Joys said...

I know it is hard.

I'm thinking about you... and your people.

Thailand Gal said...

Well, I know my limitations and am very clear about what would happen if I found myself in that position. I'd completely decompensate (I know you know what that means) and probably put a bullet through my head.

It's difficult to comprehend how anyone going through such an experience could ever be right again... the PTSD alone...

There's something to be said for the internal strength of those who cope with such a situation on a daily basis and still continue to be human.

I understand the rationale behind the applause. I just can't wrap my head around it.



Bob said...

Jen - I think you are stronger than you think. Should you find yourself in their place and having M to take care of, I know you would do whatever was needed for her survival.

I know this hurts, I hope thought you are able to recognize the good you do for them and use that to aleviate the pain.

kristen said...

What a strange celebration and how heart wrenching, that even though tomorrow is a BIG unknown for those 100 people, they still say thank you.
Unfortunately I've also witnessed overdosing on Heroin and it scared the crap out of me, especially when I saw how cruel the EMT's were to the dude.

Walking in Union Square this afternoon (we're here!!) I look at the homeless so differently because of you Jen and I thank you so very much for that.

flutter said...


You beautiful thing. It must just weigh on your heart, I know it does. The gravity of this is almost too much to bear.

Beck said...

I have a brother who is on the cusp of becoming one of your clients. Posts like this just kill me.

theflyingmum said...

Please, please, try to focus on all the good that this program did for the last 5 (?) months. I know it's bittersweet, to feel like you give, and you taketh away. But I really do believe those people clapped out of gratitude. I really do. Remember that what you do is important. You are making a difference. And I love that you take M with you. She will have an understanding of homelessness that few others ever could. You do good work.

Laurie said...

I wish you peace and some rest, Jen. You are doing wonderful things, I'm sorry it tears at your heart so. Hugs, Laurie

Mad Hatter said...

It's minus 5 here tonight. I alway seem to read these posts on cold nights. It breaks my heart.

KC said...

Your last paragraph stays with me. I agree with Mrs. Chicky. It hardly seems fair that the weight of this last day falls on you.

I see it though, the "celebration" but not. I've known that feeling.


Julie Pippert said...

Ahhh Jen.

It makes me want to howl at the moon, uselessly.

There are rules against being homeless here. There are rules against helping the homeless here. Somebody here has a special spot in hell for himself.

(And, no, I'm not kidding. Large signs proclaim panhandling is illegal and same large sign declares you Shall Not Donate Period Or Else.)

It would sort of strike me---that dinner---as a last hurrah. Like the band playing while the ship sinks. Is that making it worse? Sorry. Really.

That's rough.

You do more than almost anyone. You do all you can.

How're you doing?

kim said...

One Christmas I helped do arts and crafts for homeless families. I know how stupid that sounds. BBQ's crafts, stories, giving a homeless man a couple of bucks on the street -changes nothing. But, for a moment maybe it's saying I see you as a person, not just as a homeless person. You are worthy.

"the truth is it all seems muddled, BBQ mixed with pain and suffering, potato salad on the side."

beautiful line.

Kyla said...

Oh jen. I can't imagine what it is to do what you have those burdens heavy on your heart so feel helpless in spite of the wonderful things you are doing. Hugs to you, dear.

mamatulip said...

The last sentence of this post grips my heart.

NotSoSage said...

Jen. I'm sorry. Thank you for reminding me to be thankful.

urban-urchin said...

I don't know what to say Jen. It does seem utterly ridiculous to 'celebrate' when these people are losing their shelter the next day. Sigh.

Em said...

Oh boy... how utterly dreadful.

QT said...

I just watched Blood Diamond last night - the best line is "Sometimes, I wonder if God will be able to forgive us for what we've done to each other?"

I wonder that all the time.

Mrs. Chicken said...

You really must consider writing a book.