Three days a week, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., they come and they wait. Three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they come just to get a drop of reprieve from the outreach center: a bus pass to the VA or to a job interview, a bag of groceries, a voucher to get used clothes at the thrift store, maybe a small amount of money to help pay an overdue utility bill, and sometimes just to talk to someone, anyone who will listen.
The homeless, the disabled, the sick, the unemployed, the downtrodden, the marginalized, addicts, and ex-cons just out of the “big-house” all stop by. All are different, yet all are living with one common denominator running their lives — survival.
It was 8:30 a.m. and the sun was already doing its thing, slowly roasting the folks as they waited patiently for the doors to open, some having been there since 7 a.m. Florida, ah yes, palm trees, blue skies and beaches — just another day in paradise.
Andre and Jessica had made the three-mile walk to the St. Vincent de Paul outreach office and had arrived at 8 a.m. They signed in and were #11 on the list. At 10:15 a man opened the door and called their name. As they approached he smiled and said, “Hi folks, c’mon in. Sorry it took so long. How you guys doing today?”
He knew how they were doing and they knew that he knew, but his friendly, unbureaucratic manner quickly put them at ease. “Okay, have a seat. I’m Joe. At least it’s cool in here, right?”
They sat, sighed and let the cool A/C soak into their overheated bodies. They said nothing.
“Well now,” Joe said looking straight at the mixed-race couple sitting before him. “I can see you have some heavy duty stuff going on. I hope we can help. So, what exactly is happening?”
They could feel inside themselves that whoever this man was, it did not matter at all. You can just sense some things. They loosened up. Andre began to speak and tears quickly fell from Jessica’s eyes. “Look, man, we got two kids, six and eight years old, and we’re getting kicked out of our place at 11 a.m. if we don’t come up with $58.00, and we ain’t got a dime.”
“Where are the kids now?” Joe asked.
“With a neighbor … Look, we don’t care so much about us but the kids need a bed tonight, know what I mean?”
“I do Andre, I do. And for what it’s worth, you guys need a bed too. Where you staying?”
“Barkley Motel over on —”
“Oh yeah, I know the place well. Here’s the thing, Andre, we don’t pay rent monies from this office. It’s policy. We just don’t have the funds. But let me make a call.”
Joe picked up the phone and pushed the numbers for the Barkley. He knew them by heart. He smiled kindly at them and, as he waited for an answer, twirled his finger in the air as if to say, “C’mon — pick up already.”
After several moments went by he said, “Hello, hey Sam, this is Joe over at the St. Vincent de Paul outreach office. I have a couple here, Andre and Jessica —What? What are you talking about? You have to be kidding me. You know they have until 11:00 a.m. Look Sam, these folks need that room now — not a new one tomorrow. You should have called me. Now, just ‘unrent’ that room. I’ll be over myself about 12:15.”
Andre’s and Jessica’s hopes had risen and fallen in a matter of moments. Andre, a big man, looked helpless: “What we gonna do?”
Joe asked, “What happens after tomorrow? Getting through today is not much more than a stay of execution.”
“No, no,” Andre answered, “‘cause tomorrow I know I can get some work. Just gotta get through today. Plus, we got a place lined up for next week. Her mom worked it out. She’s up in Jersey and she knew someone and, anyway, come Saturday we’ll be okay. She’s even sending bus tickets for the Greyhound over on 9th St. We leave Saturday afternoon. Next week is the 4th of July and we plan on being in Jersey and celebrating. We just gotta get through till Saturday.”
“No kidding, Andre. That’s awesome. But today is only Wednesday. Well, we can’t have the kids without beds tonight… and tomorrow too. Now, here is a food voucher. Go across the street to the pantry and get some groceries. Then bring them home with you.”
“They ain’t been too nice to us over at the motel. And if I ain’t got the $58.00 they won’t let us in.”
“Don’t you worry about that. Trust me, okay. You go back there; everything will be all right.”
It was almost 1 p.m. when they arrived back at the motel. They walked to the front desk and Sam, the manager, smiled at them. “Okay, I have good news for you. You’re paid up through Saturday.”
Jessica almost collapsed from relief. Andre held her up and a happy tear rolled down his cheek.
Back at the St. Vincent De Paul office after his lunch-hour run to Barkley’s, Joe finished up the paperwork from the 23 clients he had served that day. As he filed Andre and Jessica’s sheet into the folder, he held it up for a moment and gave it a long look. If he was a little lighter in the pocket, he felt a lot lighter in heart, and a smile spread across his face.
All in a day’s work.