Tuesday, January 29, 2013

One Point In Time

English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit...
English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit Crises. On any given night in USA, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless, according to estimates of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
4:00 AM in the car, driving on near empty streets north of Chicago.  9 degrees exterior temperature registers on the dashboard. I meet three other people who will make up my team for the National Point In Time Count of the homeless. We go out in the dark, frigid, early morning hoping that we will be unsuccessful in our mission.  None of us really want to find people sleeping outside in 9 degree weather. 

We spend three hours driving through parking garages, construction sites, and public parks.  We walk the embankments of the canals and then the suburban transit stations, looking in the stairwells and tucked away corners.  We pause at empty lots and look for cars with steamy windows or ones with ice on the inside of the glass.

We know that most people will try to ride the trains in the city, break into an abandoned building, or enter one of the crowded and intimidating emergency shelters in Chicago when it's this cold, but we keep looking.  Before our shift ends at 7am we find 2 men at separate train stations.  They both refuse to admit they are homeless and one won't talk to us at all. The station attendants know their routine though and mention an ATM lobby that one of them stays in overnight. The attendant explains that the one man stands at the bank of public phones, pretending to make calls and looking busy as  the commuters start coming through. We record the location but have nothing that will help us match this person with housing services sometime in the future. It is humbling, moving through a suburban landscape on the lookout for hiding places.  So many people that know they must be quiet, out-of-sight, or undetectable or lose their spot.

Later that morning I talk with one of the men in the homeless drop in program at the agency where I work. I ask him if he will answer the survey for the Point In Time count. "Where is the last place you lived before becoming homeless?

He had to go back seven years before he remembered, "I used to have a place working with construction. They let me stay in the buildings as soon as the walls went up. Sometimes they let me do day labor. They paid me $25/day. There wasn't any electricity or water though."  He and his friend stayed on the train during the night and have been homeless for so long that anything that has a roof and windbreak is considered housed. For seven plus years he's been figuring out how to be safe and survive and make it through the 9 degree nights. 

Walking in someone else's shoes. It will get you every time.
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Oh, Lisa, I always love hearing your thoughts on a particular subject. You are so right about walking in someone else's shoes. It is so easy to speculate about how or why a person got into a particular situation, but we really have no way of knowing. We have no way of knowing how we would have managed if we were dealt a different hand in life or what things are lurking under the surface. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject for the meaningful work that you are doing.