Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And underneath it all, dignity

Paul, you’ll have to move. Can’t sleep here during the day. So he gathers his things and moves down to the sidewalk again, between the church and Barney Greengrass. I need some help from Reachout here. 
I’m scavenging through what’s left of Borders, trying to find something to use my gift cards on. Never let gift cards go too long. Get a phone call from  Danielle. A man wants to speak to me. What’s  his  name?, I ask. I hear her put the phone down, ask. Jobie, she says, Jobie. I don’t recognize the name. Tell him I’ll be there in 15 minutes. I’m suspicious that it might be a money issue. 
When I get back, they’re sitting in the sanctuary. She has a look of pain on her face matching his look of sadness. She brings him a water. Leaves us alone. He pulls out a piece of paper from his pocket. Just got out of the hospital, he says. Got this diagnosis. And he hands me a paper which shows his test result. HIV/AIDS. Positive. My brother got the same thing, he says, he was dead in three months. 
Doesn’t have to be that way, I say. Doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Lots of people live with it. Look at Magic Johnson.
Got to have the medicine. Can’t get it. 
Anybody to help you?
And he show me has an  appointment card  for an AIDS program, for Thursday, a day and a half away. What can he do until then? I take the card, call the social worker. Want to see what they had in mind. Get an answering  machine
Where’s he been staying? Your steps. And as I look at him, his gold wire frame glasses, he may be the distinguished looking man we saw in the south dorrway the other day. Saturday night, the police come and took us. Got us out a the storm. Today I walked to the Ryan Center, then here. Father, what am I going to do?
He tell me he’s been homeless for  dozen years. His wife let him, he lost everything. Is an alcoholic. But hasn’t drunk in a long time, went to AA meetings. 
It’s got to be hard on you, the people drinking on the steps.
No sir, them people leave me alone. 
I ask what he wants me to do. Pray, he says. And i feel a twinge of guilt over my thoughts that this was about money. 
That I can do. What do you want me to pray for?
My sins. They have me worried...
So looking up to Jesus, I pray for his sins. Want him to feel held like that child in Jesus’ arms in the Tiffany window. Want him to feel forgiven. Accepted. Loved as he is. That he may not get cured, but he can be healed. Tears are srteaming down his face.
Thank you, father. I was a praying man. Back home, back in Montgomery,  Alabama.I ask about his family. They’re a good family, he says. They love me. How long since he’s seen them? Twelve year, he says. They must miss you, I say. I think about calling them. He doesn’t have a number. 
So how bout we find you a place to go to? Off the street? 
Sure, but I’m not goin to no shelter. They beat me up. Rob me. All the time. I feels safer here. I feel safer on the street. His feeling is familiar. The vast majority of homeless people I’ve talked to would rather stay on the street than a shelter. It’s a sad reality. 
No shelter, I say.
We go into my office, call Reachout. They give me some leads. Safe havens. Day centers. One on the east side, another in the west fifties. No place near. And a Roman Catholic shelter in the Bronx.  But you have to act fast, they close at 4PM.
I call them. They have a space. We have a plan. 
I’ll be safe, right? 
Yes, I say.  It’s sisters. You’ll be ok. 
I been to the Good Samaritan place. Up there. In the Bronx. The church places, they’re ok. 
We’ve got 45 minutes. Danielle looks up the address on We’v got a route, 38 minutes. 
But I can’t go in  no subway. I got the claustrophobia.
Alternate plan. The bus. The 7 picks up right outside our door. But it takes an hour twelve. No good. They’ll close the doors. 
Look up how much is a taxi. I say. About eighteen, says Danielle. That’s it, I say. We pool our money. I run outside, grab a cab. The the cab driver sees Jobie, looks at me warily. It’s cool, I say, give him the money, the address. You take him there...
He reads the address. Nods. Jobie approaches, extends his hand. Thank you and God bless you. God bless you too, I say. And they’re off. He left his medical papers on my desk. Danielle calls the sisters Tells them he’s coming. And arrranges to fax his papers. 
The Frog & Peach actors are arriving. We’re done. They’ll be here alone tonight. 
We keep seeing his face. The profound sadness. The pain. Like one of tbe Christ figures in David Michalek’s 14 Stations. Regret. Brokenness. And underneath it all, dignity. 

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