Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: On Poverty--A story about homelessness

The roots of homelessness are complex, and whatever the precise mathematical relationship between homelessness and poverty is, people who have money typically are not homeless.

With that, here's a story.

Last January, my church took its turn as part of a coalition of churches that provide winter shelter to those in Harrisburg without homes of their own. Volunteers were solicited to work at the shelter, and on Sunday, January 20, I took a turn helping out. It was a bitterly cold night, one of the coldest of the winter. The folks, ninety percent men, began arriving in the church basement at 6pm. They took pallets to sleep on, ate a simple meal, and around 9pm began retiring. The basement was packed.

A few men huddled around a radio in one corner. I went to join them. The New York Giants were playing the Green Bay Packers for the right to go to the Super Bowl and face certain defeat against the unbeaten New England Patriots. I had begun following the Giants in 1969, when my dad took me to their training camp a few miles from our house.

It was even colder in Green Bay than it was in Harrisburg. Most of our crowd was rooting for the Giants. One guy kept predicting what would happen, then regardless of the outcome of the prediction, would say, "Just like I told you."

Well, the game ended with an overtime interception of Brett Favre and winning field goal by the Giants. They were, improbably, headed to the big game. The predictor-guy said, "Just like I told you. They were gonna win. And you know what? They are going to win against the Patriots."

Then we all went to bed. At 5am people started to get up for work. I got two guys' lunches out of the locked fridge. We made coffee and set out pastries. By 7:30 everyone had left. We straightened up, then went back to our own lives.

The predictor-guy was right, after all. The Giants won the Super Bowl. And even though it's been many months since that night in the church basement, my mind returns there from time to time, and I wonder where those folks are right now, if they're healthy, if perhaps they have a roof over their heads.