On his intake form, the bird-like man with russet dreads spilling from his knit cap answered the question How long have you been homeless? with 30+ years.
Lindsay wrote his name in the loopy cursive he must’ve practiced in grade school. Perhaps it was his signature, broken apart to fit on the lines, last name first. However, he wrote his answer to the question Where do you live? in a mixed font:ANywHERE i cAN FiNE.
He had grown up in Montrose, a town 60 miles south of here, and recognized another guest who usually sits in the vestibule because the crowd inside the Day Center is too stimulating. He and Ron had worked in a Montrose car wash together years ago.
“I lived in a room in the back,” he said, shaking his head at the unsatisfactory arrangement. Some problem came up at work and Ron blamed Lindsay, who was fired. No animosity appeared to linger between them.
Losing one crummy job in 30 years of homelessness doesn’t rise too high among life’s grievances.
Lindsay had found work even before he found us. The day labor agencies often have painting jobs and of course everyone says they can paint, but he’s an experienced painter who rattled off all the types of paint guns he knows how to operate and clean. He’d painted just about everything, he said, commercial buildings, bridges, those what-do-call-ems on farms…
He showed me the separate compartments in his back pack, pausing to count them before declaring there were four. It was a good pack, he said, but he wished he had a canvas one because they were so durable.
A man can go through a lot of packs in 3o years.
Bobby was also new yesterday. He was young and tanned, maybe late 20s. Though clean-cut, he wore a pair of blue flannel pants that pass both as sleepers and a streetwear among some of the poor.
His form said he’d been homeless for only three days, and he told me several times, this isn’t me. He’d never been homeless before and he was out of his comfort zone in the Day Center. The idea that his condition might persist for a while had only started to occur to him.
I heard his story in snippets as I admitted other guests. The entry to the common room where I work is busy, with lots of crosstalk, and while people are often willing to discuss their situation, they don’t broadcast it, so it can be hard to pick up all the details.
Bobby grew up in Louisiana and his family was still there. He’d been living in Texas and came here to see a girl friend. Something didn’t work out. A string of other misfortunes had followed. He’d made $30 yesterday at day labor but didn’t have the money to get back to Texas, where he had a job waiting. He had a smartphone he used to call about more work here for the day and to let people back in Texas know what was going on.
“Seems like everything is going wrong at once,” he said. He seemed a bit beaten down and said again as if to apologize for taking my time, “This isn’t me.”
One of the calls was with his grandmother in Louisiana, the woman he’d listed as a relation to contact in case of emergency. He sat nearby, mostly listening. I heard him say, “I don’t want to talk about money, right now, grammaw. I love you.”
He finished the call and turned to me, because I was closest by and the only one he knew in the room.
“My dad died this morning. Hit by a car. He was walking to work in the rain and a car hit him crossing the street.”
I dropped what I was doing and gave him a hug. We talked about his regrets that he hadn’t talked with his dad for five years. Even if being homeless is not you, sometimes important things remain undone.
I found a volunteer, formerly homeless, who works as a floater and fixer for our guests. He took Bobby to a vacant medical exam room to talk.
For all the great things about our place and our homeless guests, a crowded room filled with wounded people is not a very good place to cry.