two little girls

Every year we open our winter programs which provide a few hundred additional beds for folks who need a place to escape the cold. I breathe a sigh of relief every year because I know how desperately those beds are needed for folks who manage to survive in the elements the rest of the year. I make a point of bringing M to the site regularly during the winter. She loves to go to mommy's work and help put the mats on the floor and I love it because she gets to see my passion and expand her mind.

Tonight started off the same, running into some old timers and old friends. One of the staff came up and said I am glad you're here. We've had more children the last few nights. It's no secret to anyone that children in these places damn near kills me and they know it and I know it too. Just as she finished speaking a family walked in with three kids, the youngest looks the same age as M. M noticed her immediately and ran up to her and the little girl reached out her hands and M took them and as it is with little ones, friendship was instant. Poverty is irrelevant, social class and all the rest. Children are always so much smarter than the rest of us.

Her mom approached and we started talking. Her story is similar to the thousands I've heard over the years and no less heartbreaking and once again this is no place for children. It may be relatively safe but her kids are on the floor in a warehouse amidst a hundred adults, a seething, exhausted place where the lights never go out and the concrete never gets warm. They have no car, no phone, no money. They spend their days at the library and their nights here with us. She's afraid to bathe them properly because there are no private shower stalls. Her children are beautiful and well behaved. Everyone smiles at the kids, the sadness and the joy of it, the old timers and the punks. Everyone smiles at the kids.

I cannot bear that this is the best we can do for these kids two weeks before Christmas so after obtaining her permission I start calling in favors and pulling some rank. There are kids here tonight, I say several times to several people whose cell phones I call after hours and yet they pick up we need to find them a place to live. After a bit some of the best case workers I know agree to come down and see what they can do. It's this spirit that never fails to move me. We move into action together and each person will bring something; money for the deposit, the friendly landlord, an open unit in their system. We bring these things and pool them and sort them out and see which one sticks this time around.

While this is happening M and her daughter are racing around up and down between the huddled masses. There is no fear to M, the burly, filthy, bearded men step around them in amusement and probably some annoyance as they sing and hold hands and dance their way around the room. They are both three and in this moment it would be easy to forget how different their lives are, how this little girl will sleep cold huddled on the floor after M and I go home. I see M flop down on the little girl's mat, laughing, she kicks her shoes off. This is fun for her, I know she can't understand and yet it feels wrong for her to do this. In this moment the unfairness rages inside of me. But they are two little girls having fun.

It's finally time to leave; all that can be done tonight is done and I promise her I'll return tomorrow with some warm clothes of M's and a case worker or two. She walks us outside and to our car and leans over and hugs me. This is so hard, she says. I squeeze her tightly and hold on. You are so brave, I reply. It might not feel like it but you are so very brave. We can do better than this. We will do better than this. And I know I am promising this to both of us.

On the way home M is chattering about how much fun she had. She asked if she could go to her new friend's house sometime and I turned around and looked at her. Baby, she doesn't have a house. She sleeps in that big room on the floor at mommy's work. Oh, she says. Oh. But we have a house, mommy. Can't she get a house too?

And we drive home to the warmth, the unfairness of it still rages on.

And ironically given how I am feeling tonight, I have a new review up about a toy M played with recently up at my other gig. If you want something a bit lighter and certainly more fun, clickety click.