Let me start by saying, I can’t believe I did this nearly two weeks ago. And I can’t believe we haven’t posted anything since mid-October. Two Tuesdays ago, I went on a homeless outreach project with our local chapter of Hogar de Cristo. Every Tuesday and Thursday night, they go on one of their two routes near our community to visit with and bring some food and other supplies to people living without permanent shelter. They head out around 6:00 pm and are back at about 11:00. They take simple fare: tea, soup, hard boiled eggs, and bread, Obviously, bringing some sustenance once a week does not end their problems. By driving the same route and encountering more-or-less the same people each week, Hogar de Cristo can informally keep track of the men. As the coordinator for the project described to me, most of the men they meet won’t seek medical help, and most don’t have anyone looking out for them and keeping track of where they are. So by being consistent in their outreach and connection, they can help them beyond the bit of food and other supplies they bring.
I met men who were very clearly drunk, high, sick, and in need of love and attention. The last observation occurred to me because they really wanted to talk to me. Admittedly, the combination of drugs or alcohol, missing teeth, and having a “country” accent made conversation challenging. I smiled and nodded, I agreed, and occasionally asked them to repeat things, even though I only understood about 50% of what they were saying. One fellow had the very helpful habit of ending his thoughts with the question, “Si o no?/Yes or no?” to seek my position on his ideas. Let’s just say I was very agreeable, a lot of, “Si, por supuesto, claro!/Yes, of course, clearly!” They needed to talk, and more importantly, they needed to be heard. Everyone we met was in a group. They had partners in their life on the street right there by their side. I’d guess, though, those partners knew all their stories. I was a new guy, a new pair of ears (albeit attuned to English more than Spanish, ears nonetheless).
On the drive home, I admitted to my travel partners that I had a hard time catching a lot of what was said. They assured me that it was a challenge for them sometimes, too, based on the drugs, alcohol, missing teeth, etc. But they assured me that the most important thing is listening, and the second most important thing is trying to remember what you heard. When you go back to see those guys the next week, being able to pick up the conversation where it left off or ask them about a story you’d already heard means the world to them. Which got me thinking; that’s what means the world to anyone. You remembered me. You listened to me. You came back to see me again. So although their needs for food, shelter, and medical attention are different from mine, their need for connection is exactly the same as yours and mine, I’d guess.
I hope it’s obvious that I don’t claim to be an expert on homelessness. I certainly don’t believe a few hours on this trip on a Tuesday night will make all the difference in the lives of these men. I thought it was an important experience to share, though, because we’re all human. We all struggle and we all need connection. And I look forward to connecting with these guys again.