We put out some bread and cold cuts and peanut butter and a basket of raisins from the oatmeal drawer. As I do this, it is slowly registering that I am going to be in the same room as all of these guys all night long. The bed looks uninviting. I use the bathroom before the guys arrive. I am washing my hands as I hear the sounds of metal legs of the beds smashing against the floor. The men have arrived. Someone knocks loudly on the door, and I try to make a quick exit, drying my hands on my denim skirt, which I’m wearing with a flowered cardigan.
A young man named Angelo smiles broadly at me as I walk out. He holds out his hand to shake mine. “Don’t worry, they’re clean,” he says. I am not worried about germs, just shocked that he is so young. He couldn’t be older than in his early twenties. It reminds me of the time when I was a little girl and went with my parents to help at a soup kitchen. A young girl was celebrating her birthday there. She was about my age, and it struck me how similar and how far apart our lives were.
I look around as the guys settle in. One man with a red face and a black ponytail looks upset. He tries to speak Spanish to a man sitting on one of the beds and wearing a green and blue plaid flannel shirt, but when the man in flannel doesn’t respond, the man with the ponytail switches to English. They must notice me watching them, because the man with the ponytail looks at me and says, “This is a good guy,” pointing to the man in flannel. Another man, with glasses and wavy hair, speaks up in order to agree: “If he were to try to jump off the Empire State Building, I’d try to pull him back,” he says. The man in flannel accepts this praise in silence. (Mercy in the City, 72–73)
- How have you helped shelter those who are without shelter? What do you think has worked well, and what hasn’t?
- If you can’t help in big ways to shelter those without homes, are there smaller acts that can make a difference?
- Imagine that you have no permanent place to stay, no place to keep your things, no place to shower whenever you need to, no place to sleep peacefully. How do you think this situation would affect you emotionally? How would it affect you mentally? How would it affect you physically? How would it affect you spiritually?
- Do you know of any local community actions that have been successful in giving people shelter? If so, please share with the rest of us.