The days are growing colder at the shelter. Not a day goes by that I’m not asked if there are any donations of clothing or blankets. I’m surprised that donations are far and few between. With as much as I hear about homelessness away from skid row, I would have assumed they were being buried in hand me downs and leftovers.
I remember taking an entire truck full of donations to Tijuana when I was a kid. I assumed we give more to those within our borders than without. Then again, I think most people assume that if you’re homeless in the United States it must be your fault. Bad choices. Drug Addiction. Alcohol.
But I’m finding that’s not always the case. Along with the deaf folks I wrote about in a previous post, there are others with disabilities.
The neurologically disabled and mentally ill are everywhere.
Today there was a woman who paced the courtyard, Bible in hand. She looked like what I would expect a Berkeley or UCLA student to look like. Young, dread locks, neatly placed clothing, eating a spring roll. She was praying outloud, with her eyes toward heaven. “I will pray whatever you speak in my ear. I pray now for the death of Michelle Obama. He will give me what I ask for.” She was in another world. She wasn’t here. Her body was a shell and her diseased mind propelled it as she spoke to an unseen force.
Something was in the air today.
Another man: tall, heavy, bearded. He stopped in front of the baggage line as if someone alerted him. His hands suddenly stretched skyward as far as they would go. He began to shout while staring upward into the rafters, “Do NOT stare into the eyes. Do NOT stare into the eyes. Do NOT stare into the eyes…” driven like a psychotic break. Like a record on skip.
And then the man who stopped me while I carried laundry to ask, “Why did I stop doing pushups?”
“I don’t know, sir. Why did you stop?” I’ve learned to just answer directly.
And he walked away as if he hadn’t heard me, only to ask the next person he came across the same question. He repeated it to every person he passed in the courtyard. At least twenty times.
I got a little chuckle out of the elderly man who spoke to someone invisible. He was seat with his legs crossed, having a good conversation about the benefits of education with the unseen other party to his left. I could imagine he was speaking with his own teenage or college age son, “You will need to study law. Now, I know that it’s hard for your ego to swallow, but you need to know that you don’t yet know everything. Law is a noble profession and it’ll suit you just fine. Yes. Yes. I know, it’ll cost a pretty penny. Sho will. We’ll come up with that somehow. Don’t you pay no mind to that.”
I pass them throughout the day and think nothing of it now. They mean no threat and most of them don’t even know they have the ability to startle. Every once in a while I sit down, gaze distantly at the roar of the mass of them, and wonder what their mothers had planned for their lives. Surely not this.
And I think of my own autistic daughter. What will become of her when I am gone?