I was recently asked to introduce a local academic to the homeless community for a book he's writing. Some examples are as follows:
Water gangs have multipled during the plague, small groups of black boys aged 13-17 who claim a highway exit ramp to sell bottles at $2 apiece. Some of them are strapped (a necessity when operating in cash). Not all of them had a meal that day. I hand out canned ravioli and milk packs, wondering if anyone at DFCS figures them into the childhood hunger data.
Amputations were on the rise this past winter. Smoke enough crystal meth and you stop feeling the cold, until days slip under the bridge and it takes a passing stranger who noticed the smell to call 911. One of my clients lost all his toes and three fingers. His first weeks out of surgery he couldn't make it to the bathroom in time, crawling around his feces-stained living room like a bloodhound. The pain and loneliness is unbearable. His property manager knows about the dealers coming inside, at the same time recalling his own days as an addict and admitting that keeping the client sheltered in his apartment is a small victory.
A homeless mother gave up alcohol when she learned she was pregnant, and switched to weed. When two social workers conducted a home visit, the older (childless) one threatened to call family services the second the baby was born, whereas the younger (mother of three) defended the substitution, of smoking vs. the agony of staying sober while living alone during lockdown.
A man walked to my office parking lot with a coat and a tent, declaring he couldn't sleep outside another night and would I drive him to the men's shelter behind the jail? I didn't ask why he needed to be escorted to the front desk, until the social worker appeared and motioned me to her office and shut the door.
"I curse a lot, but you seem cool," she said. She was well put together, hair, nails, glasses on the tip of her nose, her office wall crowded with family photos. "He gets fucked up at night. Coming in after curfew drunk and belligerent, goes missing a few days, then crawls back with his tail between his legs, except now he brought you to see me. This is the fifth time he's come back, and it is a slap in the face to everyone who didn't get a second chance."
"I figured that might happen." We stared at each other, relaxed, having the same conversation state-assigned moms have in other windowless rooms. "He's at the top of the list for supporting housing. Probably get him into an apartment in two weeks."
"Two weeks? Four weeks? How long am I supposed to keep him?"
"It's warm outside. I don't have a problem with driving him somewhere safe and letting him pitch a tent in the woods."
She looked at her computer. "Ugh I don't want him outside. Let me see..." Type type type. She sighed. "His stuff is still here. It's more work for me to discharge him then to let him have his bed back."
"Can I let him back in?"
I opened the door and held his hand to shut him up while the social worker lays into him.
She pointed an orange nail. "You done fucked up. I don't need to hear your excuses. But because you brought her" points at me "and I love her, you get your bed back."
I squeeze his hand before he can say anything stupid.
"Aaaaaand" she draws out "You will see Mr. C for peer support tomorrow morning. And Mr. G in the afternoon for the drinking."
I nod very quickly and look at my client to do the same. She makes a shooing gesture and I march him out of the room with both hands on his shoulders, twisting my head thru the door to whisper "bless you".
She smiles. "Keep me up to date on his apartment."