Homeless

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

August 29, 2004

 

            The young man’s face showed the signs of stress. There were big circles under his eyes from lack of sleep. Some worry wrinkles seemed to be permanently affixed to his brow. He was in his early thirties, but he looked older. His fingernails needed trimming and were dirty.

We drove around Baltimore trying to find a place where he could stay a few nights. He was homeless.

            I had met him on the street. He had stopped me and asked for help. 

            I bought him breakfast at McDonald’s and he began to tell me his story.

            He had been pretty much an ordinary guy. For a few years after high school he worked at a supermarket. It was a good union job, with health benefits and everything. He lived in an ordinary apartment complex with a roommate whom I inferred was also his partner. “You never know how good things are until they are gone,” he said.

Then things began to fall apart.

His partner left him because he was drinking. He began to drink more to soothe his depression. The depression only got worse. He began showing up late to work. He was not performing at work because he was depressed or drunk or both. He lost his job.

He retreated deeper into depression and mental illness. He never came out of his apartment. Finally, one day, the sheriff came with a notice of eviction. In a confused mental state he didn’t know what to do. He did nothing.

Eventually the sheriff showed up to evict him. As he told me how events unfolded I was right there with him in the terrible details.

“You always think it only happens to somebody else. I’ve seen their stuff on the street and thought, ‘Gee, that’s terrible.’ But then it happened to me. They came and put everything out on the sidewalk. I tried to rent a truck but I couldn’t because I had no money and no credit card. I came back and half my things were gone. I kept begging people, ‘Please don’t take my things.’ But they didn’t care. Then late in the day it started to rain. Everything was ruined. By night most of it was gone. I stood there looking at the little pile of things.”

There was a lump in my throat. That was the beginning of his odyssey. With no family and few friends, he began two years in and out of shelters, hospitals, and jails. Sometimes he rode the trolley cars (called “light rail” in Baltimore) all night just to stay warm. He begged, which he was ashamed of, but he at least needed the fare to get onto the light rail.

One frigid winter night he had absolutely no money. He was freezing. Looking around he saw no one at the station. He hopped over the turnstiles. A security camera caught him and he was arrested.

The police took him to Baltimore jail. He was afraid. He said he began to cry uncontrollably, deep sobs. He said he began to cry out for his dead mother. A policeman took pity on him and gave him a cup of coffee and carfare, and let him go.

By now we were stopped in front of the motel. Tears were running down my face. What a story. I had heard this type of story before, but it still broke my heart. I knew people just like him. Even in my own family.

 

He is not so different from any of us. Like he said, “You always think it happens to somebody else.” 

His life is a true tragedy. Basically a good person brought to ruin by his own flaws and circumstances.

I’m still in touch with him. I still trying to help a little. But his life is only one of hundreds bobbing around in a sea of troubles looking for a life preserver.