Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Joe: Part II

As I got on the brown line tonight, I was praying that God would help me speak with Joe. That my presence, and the words I spoke, would not be the same as the passers by he talks to everyday. That my gesture of traveling out there to talk with him made him feel appreciated - because I do appreciate him.

I knelt down onto the cold asphalt still littered with cans of beer and trash from Halloween, and said hi to my friend. He was sitting in his usual chair on the corner, smoking his personally rolled menthol cigarette. I saw his coats hanging on the chair inside the Dunkin' Donuts as I passed by, so I knew he was outside taking a smoke break. Joe is getting older. He seems so much older than he did six months ago. Every time I see him, he walks slower, his back is a little more hunched and his thoughts are not quite as sharp. The same rapidity you see a boy change in the years of puberty, Joe is changing too, but is rapidly declining; even more so because he is a homeless man living on the streets of Chicago.

Always surprised but quietly pleased to see me, Joe and I talked about whether or not he needed any new socks. The temperature has severely dropped in the past few days. Joe is pretty well off with clothes, he tells me, but will let me know if anything gets stolen and needs replacing. I found out he has no income now. He used to sell the Chicago Sun-times everyday, but they no longer needed him. I asked him what he did with his income that he did receive and how he is coping now, he told me that he doesn't panhandle but people do give him money occasionally. Actually, I have heard several stories of people giving jackets, money, food, and many other practical items he needs, very often. He is actually very "well off" for a homeless man. He even has a woman who works in the high rise across the street do his laundry for him once a week. He wouldn't really tell me what he lacks now without the money from the paper, perhaps it is having less alcohol, less tobacco, or less hotel rooms he sometimes would stay in the weekends to stay warmer when it is cold. I do not assume these things, I know from knowing Joe for over a year now. I do not blame him for seeking comfort in these things.

I want to research unemployment and disability checks. I know our friend Chris was previously getting disability checks, but is not any longer. Supposedly if he reapplies he will again be sent the checks. They were sent to his father, and his father would make sure Chris received them on the street. These checks were spent almost entirely on alcohol. But for Joe's sake, especially because his age is starting to greatly concern me, I want to figure out if there is any program or check I can send his way. I asked him if he had looked up anything on the internet about it, he said he doesn't really know how to use the internet. I threw that one out there because I just read an article about homeless men using twitter and other social media to help find programs, housing, etc.

When I met Joe, I have no doubt in my mind that he was fairly content with his position as a homeless man on the streets, as I have said, as far as standards of living go, he lives pretty well. Very consistent place to sleep, food to eat, clean clothes. But, sleeping beside a dumpster on the ground, even with several blankets, is not the standard of living we want anyone to live by, and he shouldn't. Now that he is aging, I see something different in his eyes - his paper selling job taken away from him, I see defeat inside of him. Defeat and perhaps longing, a desire for something different. I only wish Joe would express some of this to me, but he will not. He never asks to be helped, never complains about his situation, never even states that he wishes his life was not the way it was. It astounds me. I do not even fully understand this. Every other homeless person I have ever talked to has at least wished for a different life, a job, another chance.

Joe will continue to deteriorate, and this winter is going to be extremely hard on him. I am afraid of what might happen. What if I can't help Joe? What if I can't get him off the streets? What does he need? What will help him most? God, I need your help.


Donna Boucher said...

I wish I had the answer.
God Bless Joe.

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