Tonight we went once again to Love Park to hang out with the homeless. I have to admit I was really excited to go tonight. Though, at times I am really uncomfortable when I go, I know that I have to make the trip. It is important because it keeps me grounded. So I went.
When we arrived, I realized it was a lot colder than I had expected it to be. I am glad that I had my nice warm sweatshirt with me. I had lunches, water, socks, a few gloves, and my book bag to carry it all. So we walked around. As we walked I saw a man on a bench. He had found a few pizza boxes and laid them on the bench and found a Styrofoam packaging piece to perhaps a microwave and used it as a pillow. His legs were shaking and his hands were in his shirt. With tears in his eyes due to the cold wind, he looked at me. He did not say one thing to me yet I knew he saw me. We connected, if just for a few moments.
I continued walking and saw a bunch of people sitting on the side of a wall near the “Love” sign so I decided to head over there awhile and what was going on. As I walked over, I could see some who were building their beds for the night (cardboard boxes on the ground with mice running all over the ground attempting to stay warn). It was quite a sight). As I went over, there were some guys who had on a thin long sleeve shirt and nothing else. I am sure they probably had some form of warm clothes somewhere but I was unable to determine if they needed anything of value like socks, underwear or other necessities. So, I went over and asked what they might need to make it through the night. One guy said he could really use a great sweatshirt or a warm blanket. So, I went into my bag and selected a nice sweatshirt that he could wear. His name was Tony and we talked for a little bit about life, girls, and being homeless. One thing I can say about Tony is that he knew a lot about the city. He impressed me with his knowledge of where to go and where not to go. Interrupted by someone who had made a loud noise, I looked over and there were some guys whistling at a quite large woman that had taken off her shirt to change into something warmer but did not have on an under garment. She looked around and tried to quickly throw on her sweater before any of the homeless guys got any ideas. She was alone and sacred (I guess I would not doubt it). Drawn back to my conversation with Tony, we sat and continued to talk about life and why people are homeless. His responses were interesting to say the least. He said that the homeless are no different than me. I told him that I agreed. After we shook hands, I left Tony to make his bed for the night. It was going to be a cold one but he said it would be all right. As I left, I saw the same woman sitting on the bench. I thought about going over and talking to her but for some reason I didn’t. Perhaps she saw that I had seen her topless. I figured I would just pray for her and ask God to keep her warm for the night. It was probably the best option.
As I looked to my right, I saw more homeless guys attempting to build their beds over a city vent. It was warm (probably coming up from a parking garage or something, the heat would keep them decently warm through the night. I sat on a bench and looked around. I almost felt like crying tonight. I don’t know why really. Maybe it was because I had a busy week this past week and it was the first time I could really sit back and relax. Perhaps it was because of what I was seeing. As homeless people continued to build their homes, I saw other “normal” people going to the “Love” sign and taking pictures with their digital cameras, ignoring those around them. I began to think how often I have ignored the poor on my walks through the city. Now I cannot help but notice them. I wiped my tears and began to walk once more around the park.
I found a guy I had met on one of my first journeys to Love Park. His name is Mont and he is quite a guy. Seeing him brought a smile to my face. So, I went over and gave him a hug. He really smelled and looked as though he had not showered in a long while but it was so good to see him, I gave him a hug. He remembered me (though it took a few moments to gather his thoughts about who I was). We sat on his bench and talked about how things were going.
He told me about the police in the city. He said most of them were nice (nice as – they left them alone and allowed them to sleep on the benches and whatnot). There was one officer though who was quite mean to the homeless. He did not know the cop’s name but told me that the cop had actually taken clothes away from those who had so little. He would take their clothes and throw them in the dumpsters in expectancy of them being picked up by the trash men at 3 AM. They were not allowed to have bags that were see-through (that showed how little they had) because it would give out a bad vibe to tourists who came to visit Love Park. They were only allowed one bag in the park and could not leave it unattended. It was only this one cop who seemed to have a problem with the poor.
Mont had told me though that there was actually someone who had told him that he would have to write up a notice and give it to the homeless person. This cop also had no right to throw their stuff in the trash. When someone asked the cop where he was going to take his stuff, the cop cuffed him and took him to jail for disorderly conduct. True or not, I began to see tears in Mont’s eyes. He had apparently lost two valuable bags of clothes that had warm stuff in it for the winter. They were gone though and I could not help but wonder if his story was true.
Mont also showed me how the homeless stay warm for the night. It is called the “sleeping bag” effect. The basis of this effect, Mont explained, dealt with body heat. He said that a sleeping bag had no real head source but the body in the bag. Since the heat cannot escape the bag, it would actually keep the bag warm. Mont demonstrated this with a simple blanket that he was given by some generous person the other day; Mont wrapped it around his face and tucked it into his red coat. He then said that the blanket acted as a sleeping bag and helped to keep his head warm during the night. It was quite a sight to see.
After talking to Mont for a bit, I went over to two women who were cuddled together to keep warm. I asked if they needed anything and they said no. As I was about to leave the one woman asked if I wanted to have some fun tonight with she and her friend. I declined their offer. They just smiled and continued to hug each other as I walked away.
As the night came to a close, and we were getting ready to head out for the night, I looked over and saw a woman, perhaps in her forties (possibly younger but appeared to be that old due to her city life), walking around without a coat. She was dressed in a simple white tee shirt in forty-degree weather. As I walked nearer to her, I could see she also had been crying that night. She had blotches where the tears had rolled down her face. Her dark eyes looked at me and then looked down in shame. As we finally met, I asked her where her coat was. She finally looked at me and told me she did not have one. She had missed an opportunity to go to the shelter to get one for the night. I looked down and saw my maroon PBU sweatshirt. Without even thinking (perhaps it was the weather), I took it off and handed it to her. At first, she did not accept it (perhaps because she was too prideful to accept the free gift). I told her that it would fit her and that she needed it more than I did (which is true – I had a car not far from the park that had heat and many other sweatshirts in my closet). She smiled at me and said God bless. I wonder if it was the first time she had smiled in a long while. I didn’t ask her name. All I know is she was warm that night. It was a simple gift that impacted this woman who really needed to be blessed. I did not have to think about it.
God tells us to do that sometimes. If you have two coats and you see someone in need, give them your coat. If someone needs you to walk a mile with him or her, go two. Things like that separate us from the world and make us valuable to others, and ultimately to God, Himself.
Each time I go to the city, I am challenged and continually disturbed by what I have witnessed. As we gathered to pray after our evening on the streets, we simply just prayed out loud the names of those we had met that night. When we were done, a man named Elmer Landis (most likely Mennonite), stood. He had joined our circle and prayed with us. I was touched by his desire to pray with us. It was our first interaction with a “normal” person there. He thought we were going a great thing and was glad to see that we cared about the homeless. This night was a great night. As I got into my car, I could only say, “Its Personal.” And it was.