One summer night last year, I was on the streets interviewing some of our clients for a project we were working on to raise awareness about homelessness.

The question I was asking folks was, “What do you want people to know about you?”

One young man reflected for a moment and then responded, “I work, just like everybody else. And rent is too damn high.”

We’ll call him Brad, and he was sitting on a curb, eating the sack dinner our volunteers had given him out of the back of our van.

“I just got finished working eleven and a half hours today,” he continued. He was wearing dirty jeans and muddy steel toed work boots that were laced up tight. I imagined that his feet were hurting and begging to get out of those boots after such a long shift.

Brad’s face is kind and he keeps his hair and beard neatly trimmed. Looking at him, most people would not guess that he was living homeless.

I asked Brad what kind of work he did and he told me he worked with a landscaping business full-time.

“We were building ponds in people’s back yards today. And those little water falls that just keep going,” he told me.

He paused and inwardly, I cringed. I was imagining the massive house and yard likely associated with those ponds, and wondering what it felt like for someone who didn’t have a place to live to be working on such a cosmetic project.

He surprised me by saying, “It was fun.”

His face broke into a huge smile as he continued, “When they turn it on and you can see, wow, I made that.

Brad and I talked for a while more that evening and I kept thinking about him later. The pride that lit up his face when he was talking about the waterfalls he built in people’s back yards was so beautiful.

His words, “I work, just like everyone else,” echoed back at me and I realized that my assumptions about Brad were wrong. He took pride in his work just like I did in mine. I had assumed that because landscaping was such hard physical labor and his living situation was so tough, he would just be trying to get through the days. But I was wrong and it made me happy that he found joy in his work. He told me that he had originally started as a temporary worker but they kept him on because he worked so hard for them. Passion will do that, and it boded well for Brad’s future.

I haven’t seen Brad in a while. Even though he continued to work full-time, he still didn’t make enough money to afford an apartment. Last time I saw him, he had successfully saved enough money to buy a car and was happy to be able to live in that instead of out on the streets. I hope he is still out there building waterfalls.

The woman in the alley (2/2)

I was still pretty concerned about Jane as it was already snowing that evening and a lot of snow was predicted for later that night.

And it was just plain cold.

One of my rules for myself while working with our clients was to never show that I felt cold, even if I was freezing. No complaining, no shivering, no chattering teeth. I figured that if they were outside all day and/or were going to be out all night, I could bear any weather for a few hours without complaining.

But this night, as I squatted in the alley talking with Jane, it was tough to keep my body from shivering even with my layers and layers of warm clothing. Frankly, it was a bit difficult to resist the urge to climb into Jane’s cozy collection of blankets where it did look significantly warmer.

Continue reading “The woman in the alley (2/2)”

The woman in the alley (1 of 2)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned an incident where I ended up in a dark alley with a dead car battery on a frigid night during a street outreach shift. Here is the whole story.

It was November, back in the days when our agency used to drive people to the emergency shelters that opened only when the temperature was below 25 degrees or the snow was falling abundantly.

There was a new client around at this time whom we were just getting to know. We’ll call her Jane, and she was drawing a lot of attention to herself because she had set up a tent in an alley downtown. Not only that, but she was living in said tent right through the beginning of the Colorado winter, and right in the middle of the city where average citizens were not spared the discomfort of having to witness her struggle.

Continue reading “The woman in the alley (1 of 2)”

Getting sober – Part 3

Thankfully, Larry made it through those two nights. He came back to the shelter after the consequence was up and he apologized for his behavior.

When spring started taking the place of winter and the snow melted away and didn’t come back, our shelter closed for the season. It was tough to be there on one of the last nights and to look around at all the people who took refuge there, and to know that they would all be without a place to sleep in a few days.

I asked Larry where he would be staying after the shelter closed, and he shook his head sadly.

“I don’t know, honey,” he said, “wherever I can, I guess.”

Continue reading “Getting sober – Part 3”