Last night was my first night out on the streets trying to gain a better understanding of what faces the homeless among us. I determined not to have access to anything that was not available at the mission. I did not buy special shoes or clothing to help protect me from the weather. I did not scout out any “safe’ places in advance nor did I allow myself access to Riverside Mission outside my office hours.
Last year I slept on the roof with the goals of raising awareness to the plight of the homeless, and to better understand how Riverside Mission might better serve the homeless. I had mentioned my difficulty in understanding the emotions a person might go through when homeless because I am always in control of my situation. This year, walking the streets, I had less control, but I am still in a situation I create. I know this will only last for three nights or sooner should certain circumstances arise. I know that my life goes back to normal after my three nights are done. I have family and friends who are praying for me and encouraging me. These are luxuries that homeless people do not have.
I did a lot of walking last night. I tried to bunk down for a few hours but, though the night was quite warm and I well-dressed, the cold crept in after a short while. The only way I seemed to be able to stay warm was to keep walking. My knee, hip and toes became very sore. If the discomfort in my knee and hip continue I may not stay out for the third night. This is a choice I can make but a truly homeless person won’t have this option. There is no ‘change of plans’ for him (or her).
Functioning today after spending the night on the streets posed one big challenge: staying awake. I had intended to nap for thirty minutes, a time which stretched into two hours. There is a small couch in my office that allowed me my comfortable nap. Many of our homeless do not have an office, let alone one with a couch. When I overslept, I missed lunch. I grabbed a sandwich and a banana. Afterwards I realized that the homeless man would have simply missed lunch. He does not have access to our kitchen as I do. My productivity today was considerably less than my regular days. In a few hours I will be facing my second night out. I am not sure how prepared I am but I need to face it.