I’ve been a Private Sector Government Contractor for over ten years now. The contracts keep me away from home, pay me well and weaken my soul simultaneously. Through the years my habits and priorities have changed as they should and I find myself doing things for others that may leave me to the elements so-to-speak. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the “less fortunate” as we call them, but it wasn’t until this summer when I crossed a line I’ve been walking for a long time that I realized that none of us are far from being jobless, broke and or homeless. The time I learned that the line between have, and have-not is a thin one indeed. The time I became the less fortunate, not as an experiment, joke or fantasy; but as a reality.
After getting here to this crap-hole of a city and job; also after losing my trusty steed due to my own irresponsibility and a little dishonesty on my loan companies part, I found myself walking the streets after work. Not something I’m unfamiliar with. I met a pretty and not-so-nice girl named Sarah this summer who I’d talk to on the phone to pass the time during such evenings. I’d actually planned on having to spend a few nights at work, or on the streets because I was saving up for something I felt to be more important than a roof over my head. Another motorcycle. But there was a week there in June where I actually found myself in need of a place to stay. I couldn’t stay at work, it was raining and I was kind of hungry. I’m in downtown Newport News so of course there are church’s and shelters. I’ve always been intrigued by homeless people for so many reasons. Their sheer ability to survive and their resourcefulness to name the two prominent reasons. But I’ve never really put myself all the way out there. I’d always a car. I always had at least a LITTLE money. A friend to call on. Or my wife would get me out of it sometimes… but not this time. Everything I had was tied up at home where it mattered and I was stuck out.I made the decision to Google shelters and missions. The one I reached I happened to be standing right across the street from.
Joe was a earnest-sounding man over the phone. Polite, yet no-nonsense. He explained to me how the Mission worked and told me to come on down. I asked him if me having a job would disqualify me from being able to stay there. He responded that’d be all the better. Why didn’t I know that? He told me I needed I.D. and a few other things but pretty much just to come on in.
The mission had that smell. I’ve always called it the “homeless smell”. At this point, now that I have a new respect for the homeless I don’t know what to call it anymore. But it had it. The same smell most unemployment offices and public libraries have. City buses too. I came back to Joe’s office after being buzzed in. It was like a Chapel… with security doors and safety glass. He made sure to tell me to leave my backpack outside, and gave me paperwork with a pen. He took the info down from my driver licence and further explained the rules of the Mission. There were many.
Lights Out – 2200 hrsWake up – 0600 hrs No conversations or cell phones between these hoursYou MUST attend all Chapel services. Held Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.No cell phones at Chapel ServiceNo fightingNo weaponsMon-Sat you must leave the Mission between the hours of 0800-1600 [you’re supposed to be out getting your life straight I took it] Luckily for me, those were close to my work hours.If you wish to have laundry done, leave 8 clothing items out on your bunk on your laundry day
Penalty for breaking any of these rules: Bye!
There was one bathroom. Toilet paper was provided, and also hygiene kits were available upon request.
Yeah… Just like that…
I learned a lot from the patrons of the Mission. First of all, not all of these guys were just “BUMS” as we call them. I’m pretty sure I was the only one who made over 100K the prior year but almost half of the men in the mission had full-time jobs. Some of these men really were just handed some bad cards. One gentlemen just got taken to the cleaners by his ex-wife. Seemed to be a good guy. Took care of his kids, went to visit on his days, but she wanted it all. And she got it all. Now he’s at a shelter, still paying child support trying to save up enough money to get his own spot. It’s sad.Some were just evicted.Some were just in some shape or form in a bad way and needed the hand.
But the other half… may fit the stereotype of what people think when they think of people who are at the homeless shelter or mission. I met a few of what I like to call “Shelter Hoppers”. These guys are habitually homeless and they know the system. One just can’t LIVE in a homeless shelter. They have limits of how long one can stay, and how long they must wait until they can come back! So, someone will wear out their welcome at this mission, go to another shelter and come back in a month when they are welcome.My bunk-mate told me about this. One that I personally know, has turned down at least two job offers while I was there. One was because the shift started at midnight in Norfolk and the last bus he could catch from the mission would get him there at 2230. His jobless, homeless ass couldn’t hang out for an hour and a half for his shift to start.So yeah, he was THAT guy. I honestly thought he was going to rob me too. He made several comments about my watch and also I came in one day with some CHEAP ASS Walmart shoes I’d just bought and he was like “I see you got you some new shoes”. I was like… oh fuck. He gon’ take my shoes AND my bootie.But no, it wasn’t prison… even though a few of these guys just checked out lol.
The conversations I’d overhear were astonishing. Guys’ plans. The things they aspire to do. All their dreams. All a bunch of unattainable bullshit that they knew would never happen. Not because homeless people can’t make it out, but because these were a certain few that couldn’t hold a job a week before feeling like they deserved a fucking raise!Some homeless people are so, fucking, picky and entitled! They feel entitled anyway… Complaining about the facilities. Complaining about the food. The mattresses. I’m like… YOU’RE FUCKING HOMELESS! Nigga, you want a Sleep Number bed you’re gonna need to get some money! Go slang some dope or something! But don’t expect things to be given to you! Not NICE things anyway!
Sunday mornings on the corner were the best times for me. I used to eavesdrop my little ass off. This is when I learned the most, and ultimately decided to leave. But the most impressionable part of my stay at the mission was the Chapel service:
While I was there, the make up was thus:
This tells me something about niggas and ese’s. Mexicans take care of each other. They work… and if they happen to be homeless… they find the next Spanish-speaking person and BAM! They have a place to stay. MY BLACK ASS? I flat out TOLD several of my Black co-workers I was homeless just to see what they said. And… well, I don’t have to tell you what they said… You’re reading this blog.
I was there for two weeks. A mission full of black men. Down in the Chapel holding Hymnals, singing and listening. Now… before I go on with the negative I’d like to let you know: There are few things more beautiful than hearing a group of men singing songs of praise. Now, I know this particular group of men were sort of being forced to… but they didn’t HAVE to sing. We did. Sang along with one… no two… no five white pastors, from five different white church’s. Don’t get me wrong! I think everyone should play a part. It was great they were doing their missionary work. They’re supposed to. But I’m like, WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE BLACK CHURCHES? I’ve seen NOTHING but black people since I’ve been here! This is a very “Dark” town as some people say… not one black church came by to minister to the predominantly black homeless mission. I was peeved.Then the sermons. I swear to GOD, I don’t know if it was because I felt guilty for being there or because I know they were right but… there were some seriously condescending tones and messages every night! Every night we had chapel the prayer or sermon or something had something to do with “these people” or these” beat down men” or “defeated men” or “lost men”. I have more confidence than any one person should have and I left chapel wanting to blow my fucking brains out a couple times!
I recall, the last night I was there the chapel service ran a little long. They were usually 30 minutes and then it was dinner time, but tonight they took an hour and 15 minutes. I’ll be damned if these motherfuckers were not outside cursing this guy out!
“I love GOD and all but gotdamn! Get up there, say what you gotta say and get the fuck out!”
“An hour and 15 minutes? Shit, this is some bullshit”
“Just don’t make no sense… oh, you’re bad people… oh, you need to get your life straight.. man sit down!”
Granted… they were all outside among themselves but still! Nigga you’re homeless! You have NOWHERE to be… your BED TIME is in an hour… what are you complaining about?
LoL… Jesus, I was floored. I just couldn’t believe how many men who were in need would complain about the benevolence of others. Missions are supposed to do GOD’s work and care for people. But they don’t HAVE to… and they don’t owe you SHIT! How is it that I know that, but THEY didn’t?
** Sidenote: On one hand I know I’m in this situation here… but back home I have all my ducks in a row. I’m a homeowner [boooo] I have a VERY nice vehicle, my kids are spoiled to death and are none the wiser about all this… I feel if anyone in there should’ve felt ‘too good’ for any of it, it should’ve been me. But I was grateful. See… look at that smile!!!
Talking to Sarah, who coincidentally regularly volunteers at homeless shelters I realized there are many sides to any story. People enjoy helping others. And in most cases those in need wont show that side of themselves. They won’t tell you your food stinks… they won’t tell you the beds suck. They’ll just smile and take what you give them. Mostly. she instructed me to give back because no matter what experiences I had there, I did partake. I didn’t eat the food because I didn’t need to, I had my own money to buy food; but I stayed there. I used the shelter. I used the water to wash with. I lay in the beds and I took in whatever positive I could from the Chapel services. And she’s absolutely right. I’ve always been a benevolent person. I’ve given to the poor several times… just because my mother used to tell me “that could be Jesus” asking you for a shirt on the street corner. Or asking for a sandwich. It wasn’t til now that I knew the other side of that blind benevolence. And I’ve always wanted other people to know that no matter where you come from, no matter how well things are going, and how much money you have… you should always give if you can. YOU… yes YOU are only one mistake, one house fire, one natural distaster, one medical procedure, one divorce… away from being poor, broke and or homeless yourself.
Scream at me