Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can you imagine?

I just spent a good amount of time talking with a client who sleeps on the streets. In this weather. Can you imagine?

Of course, the obstacles that homeless people face are forefront in my mind all year, but even I pause when the weather gets to be this brutally cold, wondering how in the world people survive?

Of course, many don’t. Each year, on Dec. 21 (the longest night of the year), we remember those who have passed away as part of Homeless Memorial Day.  Already, news stories have reported several deaths since this unforgiving cold snap.

Our client has been sleeping on the streets for 25 years. He spends most of his time at the library, learning languages (he is currently learning German), is an expert chess player, and has a beautiful singing voice. He sometimes makes money at chess or in karaoke contests. He spends entire days looking for a safe place to hide his personal belongings, including his precious blankets that mean the difference between life and death on the streets. In the time I’ve known him, over the past 8 years or so, he has been attacked and robbed several times.

He is a brilliant man, and also profoundly paranoid. He found LPCS by accident years ago, and for whatever indefinable reason, felt safe here. Despite his undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, he feels a connection with our staff, and continues to visit us regularly, although has never registered to become an overnight guest. He comes for basic services, to pick up his mail, and calls when he can’t make it in person. Although he is largely isolated from the outside world, preferring to stay invisible, he keeps his connection to LPCS.

As he was explaining to me the benefits of various building materials, cardboards, etc. with which to construct a makeshift shelter, and his tips for staying warm by sleeping in port-a-johns, I am both saddened and hopeful. Because lately, he has been talking about coming inside for the night, and applying to housing programs. He is getting tired, and I am waiting. I know we can’t push him to come inside, but when he’s ready, LPCS will be there.

--Erin Ryan, Executive Director

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