A somewhat typical eclectic day...
This morning, I decided to walk down Leland instead of Wilson. As I crossed Broadway, Jasper yelled at me to come on over. My immediate thought: “oh no it’s Lucy!” It wasn’t her, but a small Russian lady who had walked between the pillars right in front of a car. She is homeless and lives at our shelter; the car hit her and ran over her ankle, snapping it twice. I recognized the driver; she works in the store next to my house and she looked absolutely terrified. As we waited for the ambulance and the police, we tried to assist and comfort one lady in agonizing pain and another who was very stressed and worried.
The 911 team came. Sandy had come by this time and rode with her in the ambulance to the hospital.
Another client is wandering down the street, I grab him and we discuss his impending move. We go upstairs and I am able to help him pay his first month’s rent. After being homeless for over a year, he finally gets his own keys and move into own apartment. His resilience has paid off and now he is reaping the benefits.
After helping a homeless couple get their State ID and birth certificate, I hear some yelling out my window. When I get outside, I see four people involved and they are dissolving it, but now they’re angry because the police had been called by an off-duty security officer; this bystander had recently been in a serious conflict with one of their close buddies. The instigator of the 4 left Clifton, leaving behind the woman and two men; they are highly respected and have a lot of prominence in 2 of our local gangs and they use me as a sounding board to vent their frustration.
As I stand there talking to them; the police arrive and are slightly peeved to have been called about an argument, but they thank me for de-escalating the situation and not having to get out of their cars.
I continue to speak to these influential retired gang chiefs for quite a while and discuss the bystander’s overzealous police calling. I tell them he was just trying to solve a situation, he is not prejudice or racist, but a guy who just really needs to slow down. All this gravitated onto Wilson Avenue and through my lunch break; the discussion changed from this hasty bystander to how they, as older gangsters, can and do use their influence by trying to bring peace to the neighborhood and slow down the young gang-bangers! They are tired, they have been hurt and have hurt others, they have both been imprisoned, but now they are turning that violent past into positive action by “promoting the peace!” These local young violent “wannabes” actually listen to the words of these older men who still possess power!
I’m outside for over an hour chatting with these 2 guys each individually. I watch and I am amazed (yet again) at the beautiful community that lingers under the noisy L train on Wilson Ave. I watch as these older, wiser ex-gangsters speak to the younger trigger happy gang-bangers; and most of the time, they listen and bullets don’t rain down! As we talk, people are constantly coming up, shaking our hands, giving us hugs and saying hi. Some know me, while others know him, but most know us both. He introduces me to his crew at the Nursing Home he has been working at for 11 years, they tell me what a good guy he is and how he’s great with the old folk. A grandma (whom everyone knows) comes up with her grandson, this little boy hugs the guys and they bless him with a dollar or five. What is unsightly to so many; is simply beautiful to others.
As I marvel at this bustling corner, I realize I never made it home for lunch, but 2 sisters who constantly drift in and out of homelessness, come seeking their all important mail from the shelter. One has just had a baby and needs it immediately, so she can get her WIC. I separate from the infamous Wilson crew and head around the corner with them.
After having a quick lunch in CCO cafeteria, I find out that 3 of my clients are moving into their own apartments within a week. That brings the total to 4 today. A fellow worker tells me that Stable Futures is starting to go through their list and another 6 men will soon be housed. I am amazed; movement happens, but not this quickly! This is all interjected with discussions about getting birth certificates from Puerto Rico and a mother who got her 5 from downtown, some troublesome clients who need me to talk to them and a person coming to me discussing his faith and recovery from crack.
My intern comes up and I realize the only time I’ve seen him today, was when the poor Russian woman was hit by car and he was walking to work, so I apologize. He’s fine and he kept busy downstairs in the men’s program.
Sandy calls and the Russian lady is returning from the hospital in the shelter van. She needs help, because her ankle was shattered. Our Security helps her to the door. She is in a lot of pain and needs help up the stairs. The security acts a little franticly and tries to carry her, but he trips with her in his arms! Thankfully she is okay. I take over and carry this tiny lady to the second floor. She probably weighs just a little more than my 7 year old son. Sandy rallies the troops and the women on the floor set her up with a bed and chair. As they help and assist this weeping woman, I am again blessed to witness true community, love and compassion in action.
I walk home and reflect on a chaotic eclectic day filled with emotional highs and lows, success and friction, community, love and compassion. As I walk into my home, I get a card from an incarcerated friend who Darrell and I recently visited. This card was filled with love, thanks and concern: he is deeply stressed about my people back in New Zealand. I am totally blessed by this brief, but deeply meaningful, card. I read it to my wife and kids at dinner.
It’s Tuesday, so there’s a CAPS meeting tonight. Sandy and I go. The meeting is extremely brief, because the neighborhood has been very mellow over the winter months. The blizzard obviously slowed down the violence!
As I walk home I talk with three individuals who are part of Cornerstone. One bombarded my ears with endless complaints, another guy shared his success story and I discussed with the other a future housing possibility that he is eligible for. Our conversation gets deep and he shares his immense fear about sleeping indoors in a smallish apartment. He had slept outside all winter, but he knows how to survive because he’s a veteran and enclosed spaces freak him out. I tell him he can camp outside sometimes, but has the opportunity to have his own place to call his own and he’s happy with that possibility.
We keep on talking, because I never knew he was a veteran. He suffers from a severe mental illness and life threatening seizures. I ask him why he doesn’t receive VA benefits and he tells me, “I’m not eligible.” I find out he did 3 years in North Africa and even shook Gaddafi’s hand, but he had some horrifying things happen that left him shell-shocked (the old diagnosis of PTSD). His mental illness got rapidly worse and he was deemed unfit for the Army, so he was discharged with a military Section 8; this blue slip is not a “dishonorable discharge”, but it did make him ineligible for VA benefits. Now he sleeps down by the lake with his life threatening seizures….
As he goes into McDonalds to get himself a hot chocolate, I tell him how enraged I am and that the next time an outreach worker from the VA comes, “you will be the first person they meet, because you deserve something!”
I come home and reflect. My days, like today, are filled so much rapid change and eclectic highs and lows, I am often left confused. As I celebrate all the people finding apartments and getting their birth certificates, I grieve the pain of the veteran and the Russian girl, while encouraged that I can be part of being peace to my small world and the homeless community. I thank God that He has given me so many opportunities to be a medic, a peacemaker, a case-worker, a counselor, a financer, an advocate, a listener and a witness of the Prince of Peace. I thank God that He constantly teaches me through these wonderful people I am able to meet randomly and daily!
My prayer is that I will be faithful and a peacemaker.
My prayer is that I will be patient and flexible.
My prayer is that I will be loving and compassionate.
My prayer is that I will be humble and rely solely on the One who sets us free!