“They’re 11 and 14.”

Yesterday, yep.  I see miracles.

I was scheduled to speak to a group at Holy Trinity at noon, so about 5 am, the first batch of chicken in the oven, I planned basically what I was going to cover.  I don’t know why.  I never use the darned notes.

On my way to serve breakfast, watching the windshield wipers, I popped in the soundtrack to “Les Miserables.”  I just happened to listen to the piece where the priest lies to save Valjean from going back to prison.  Valjean’s response is beautiful: “How could I allow that man to touch my heart and teach me love?  He treated me like any other.  He gave me his trust; he called me brother.”  As I rounded the corner of Market Street and Davie, sliding on my chicken hat, I prayed my usual prayer, “God, today let me BE Love.  Please.  Let me BE Love.”

Even though it was raining, which means it’s kind of crowded – we have to serve in the corner of the parking garage so we’re not all drenched – things came off pretty much without a hitch.  My friend Veronica had the adorable, petite, two-year old girl that she babysits with her in the breakfast line (Veronica lives inside, but deals with poverty).  After I hugged the little girl, Ms. Betty said, “That’s Jesus hisself, standin’ right there.” I think she’s right.

On a whim, I talked with two of my friends, Ernest and Don, and told them, “Hey!  I’m speaking over at Holy Trinity today at noon.  Any chance y’all want to go?  I’m supposed to talk about homelessness and what’s really going on out here.  And tell people what they can do to help.  If y’all come, they can hear it from the horse’s mouth, instead of secondhand from me.  It’s at noon, so if you miss lunch, we’ll go out afterwards and I’ll buy!”  I was surprised at their courage, but both of them said, “Yeah, I’ll come.  Are you gonna pick us up?”  So we got it all arranged.

Right after that, as breakfast was winding down, I noticed a guy I hadn’t seen before.  I walked over and introduced myself.  His name is Chris and he looks a little like my Dad, reddish hair and blue eyes, medium build, about 35 years old.  I asked if he had picked up a copy of the new edition of “The Little Green Book.”  Chris spoke softly, “No, I don’t want to waste one.  I’m not planning to be here that long.”

I said, “Yeah?  Where are you from?  What’s going on?  Are you outside?”

“I gotta get home to Richmond.  I was doing something with a friend, and the company I was working for found out I had driven their rental car down here, so they stopped it.  I’m stranded, and yeah, I’m outside.  Somebody said there’s a temporary agency that’s hiring and I’m headed over there after this.  I gotta get home and take care of my kids.  As soon as I make enough for bus fare, I’ll be out of here.”

I said, “You have kids?  How old are they?”

Chris said, “They’re 11 and 14.”

I said, “How much is bus fare?”

Chris said, “Seventy dollars.”   I could hear in his voice that to Chris, that was a lot of money.

I said, “Wait right here, okay?  Don’t go anywhere.”

I have to admit I’m a little jaded, or maybe just seasoned from working with folks with substance abuse issues for so long.   One of them told me a few years back that they never ask me for money “because we know you’re not a sucker.”  That’s true; I’m not.  What I did next is not my usual modus operandi, but somehow I knew in my heart that Chris was telling the truth.

I walked over to my friend David Hanner, who serves with me on Mondays, saying, “Hey, David!  I have to go pick up Neng to take him grocery shopping after breakfast, so I can’t do this.  There’s a guy over there who needs just one thing, to get home to Richmond.  He has kids to take care of there, 11 and 14.  Bus fare is seventy dollars.  Somebody sent $200 in donations in the last two months, so I can give the money back to you.  Can you take him to the bus station?  Do you have time after breakfast?”

David responded, “Yes, I can do it.  I can leave right now; I’m almost finished up here.”

I said, “Okay, I’ll tell him.”

I walked over to where Chris was waiting and said, “Chris, my friend David is going to take you to the bus station and pay your fare back to Richmond, so you can get home and take care of your kids.”

Chris looked at me, almost speechless, and his eyes filled with tears.  He murmured, “Thank you.  I don’t know what to say.  I can’t believe it.”

I said, “You don’t have to say anything, Chris.  Just remember that today, somebody loved you.  And your job is to go home and do the same for somebody else.”  Chris just stared at me, eyes brimming.

I introduced David and Chris, and a couple of hours later on my way home, I called David.  David said, “I don’t need the money back.  I’m glad to help.  And you won’t believe this.  The bus left 20 minutes after we got there.  Otherwise, he would have had to wait until 7 pm tonight.  He was so happy.  Chris kept thanking me, and I just told him to go home and do the same for somebody else.  ”

Is there an echo in here?  That’s the story of Valjean.  “How can I allow that man to touch my heart and teach me love?”  Today somebody loved Chris.

Right after that, I hit the trail to walk the dogs and unwind, thinking about Chris and his kids.  Somehow I knew this one gesture would make all the difference for him.  I have no way of knowing if he’ll get all straightened out or not, but I’d be willing to bet he will.

At 11:15, I headed over to pick up Ernest and Don, and off we went to Holy Trinity.  As we walked up, Don marveled at the intricate stonework of the big, fancy church.  We were a few minutes early, and we had a wonderful time with the amazing coffee machine in the meeting room.  Ernest couldn’t get over the fact that the thing actually disposed of the little bag that you insert.  We had so much fun.

When it came time for us to talk, I introduced them, proudly showing off the beautiful handmade jewelry box Ernest crafted for me while living in his van.  I “interviewed” Ernest and Don, so they wouldn’t have to look at the audience and would feel more comfortable.  They did a marvelous job, speaking from their hearts and telling the truth.  Ernest’s optimism showed through when I asked if he had ever been on the wrong side of the law.  He said, “Well, yeah.  I did twelve years in prison.  And my son’s in for fifteen.  He’s just got one more to go though, so he’s doing good!”  I asked, “Ernest, what would have kept you from ever going to prison?”  Ernest responded, “Well, I can’t read and write, and that’s got a lot to do with it! And other stuff too.”  They spoke of hope and how resourceful you have to be to make it outside.  Don told them he had to turn in early the day before, because we were expecting so much rain.  He needed to be under his bridge, nice and dry before the rain started, which is okay, because he reads a lot.  He told them he enjoys novels, and mysteries.  He bragged that his mattress is a Posturepedic.  They told of complex family problems, substance abuse issues, medical issues – Don was hit by a car, walks with a cane, and has grand mal seizures.  He gets $735 per month, and says he can pay $200 – 300 a month for an apartment, but of course we don’t have any in Greensboro for that kind of money.  He has survived outside like this for eight years.

After a while, Don turned to face the audience, wanting to tell his story.  We only had 45 minutes, and I kept having to guide the conversation forward.  Otherwise, we’d still be there.  People outside always want someone to listen, if folks will just take the time.

I figure I might be one of the luckiest people in the world.  Who gets to do this?  Who gets to see the look on someone’s face when someone loves him?  Who gets to have fun with Ernest and the coffee machine?  Who gets to hug a little two year old, pure love, in the breakfast line?

I was tired last night, but so blessed to have lived another day of miracles.  Deep gratitude for these opportunities.  God, thank You.  Let me BE Love.

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“The Little Green Book” and “The Little Blue Book” October 2017 editions

Once again, the update is complete!  Bottomless gratitude goes to:

All the tireless folks providing free prepared meals and running food pantries faithfully.

Countless members of the community who donate supplies, labor, and money to keep all of these organizations and groups going.

Cone Health, United Healthcare and Greensboro Urban Ministry for continuing to provide funding for printing.

Piedmont Graphics for their help with printing

Lawrence Ross, our faithful computer guru who formats the little books every six months.

All I can say is AWESOME!  Thank you.

The files are below and 10,000 hard copies of each are in the process of being printed.

The Little Green Book October 2017

The Little Blue Book October 2017

My goal is to get the hard copies delivered by October 15th, to the 80 locations listed below.  Would you like to help with deliveries this year?  If so, please drop me an email at amymurphy1000@gmail.com.  And thank you in advance!

Alamance Presbyterian Church 4000 Presbyterian Rd
Alcohol and Drug Services of Guilford County 301 East Washington St
Bessemer United Methodist Church 3015 East Bessemer Ave
Blessed Table 3210 B Summit Ave
Bread of Life Food Pantry 1606 Phillips Ave
Cedar Grove Tabernacle of Praise 612 Norwalk St
Celia Phelps Memorial United Methodist 3709 Groometown Rd
Center for New North Carolinians 915 West Lee St
City of Greensboro 300 West Washington St
Community Health and Wellness 201 Wendover Ave East
Cone Center for Children pediatric practice 301 East Wendover Ave, Suite 100
Cone Internal Medicine Center 1200 N. Elm (ground floor, east elevators)
Cone Urgent Care 1123 North Church St
Department of Social Services 1203 Maple St
Ebenezer Baptist Church 2700 West Vandalia Rd
Faith Action International 705 North Greene St
Faithworks Ministries 3304 Spring Garden St
Family Justice Center 201 South Greene Street
Family Services of the Piedmont 315 East Washington Street
First Lutheran Church 3600 West Friendly Ave
First Presbyterian 617 North Elm St
Friendly Avenue Church of Christ 5101 W Friendly Ave
Goodwill Industries, JOTO 1235 S. Eugene St
Grace Community Church 643 West Lee St
Grace United Methodist Church 438 West Friendly Ave
Greensboro Central Library Church Street
Greensboro Chamber of Commerce 342 North Elm St
Greensboro Christian Church 3232 Yanceyville St
Greensboro Housing Authority 450 North Church St
Greensboro Housing Coalition 122 North Elm St, Suite 4
Greensboro Police Department 320 Federal Place
Greensboro Urban Ministry 305 West Lee St
Groometown United Methodist Church 5005 Groometown Rd
Guilford Baptist Church 5904 West Market St
Guilford Child Development 1200 Arlington St
Guilford County Food Pantry 202 Franklin Blvd
Guilford County Health Department 1100 Wendover Ave East
Guilford County Schools 2500 Lees Chapel  Road
Interactive Resource Center 407 East Washington St
Jewish Family Services 5509 C West Friendly Ave
Lawndale Baptist Church 3505 Lawndale Dr
Lebanon Baptist Church 4635 Hicone Road
Lutheran Church of Our Father 3304 Groometown Rd
Mary’s House 520 Guilford Ave
Monarch 201 North Eugene St
Montagnard Dega Association 611 Summit Ave #10
Moses Cone Hospital Dept of Social Work 1200 N Elm, Room 3C-120
Mount Zion Baptist Church 1301 Alamance Church Rd
Moye’s Barber Shop 629 MLK Drive
Muirs Chapel United Methodist Church 314 Muirs Chapel Rd
NC African Services Coalition 122 North Elm St
New Covenant Christian Center 1305 Ball St
New Zion Missionary Baptist Church 1310 MLK Dr
Northside Baptist Church 1100 East Cornwallis
Nu-Life Church 209 West Florida St
One Step Further 623 Eugene Ct
Pathways 3517 North Church St
PDY&F Food Pantry 1523 Barto Place
Planned Parenthood 1704 Battleground Ave
Reading Connections 122 North Elm St
Red Cross 1501 Yanceyville St
Salvation Army 1311 S. Eugene St
Sanctuary Deliverance Church 3631 Summit Ave
Senior Resources of Guilford County 301 East Washington St
Servant Center 1312 Lexington Ave
St. James Baptist Church 536 West Florida St
St. Matthews United Methodist Church 600 East Florida St
St. Paul Baptist Church 1309 Larkin St
St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church 2715 Horsepen Creek Rd
Triad Adult and Pediatric Medicine 1002 South Eugene St
Triad Clinical Trials 811 Dolley Madison
Triad Health Project 801 Summit Ave
Trinity AME Zion Church 631 East Florida St
United Way 1500 Yanceyville St
United Youth Care Foundation 1207 4th St
US Probation Officers 101 South Edgeworth St
Vandalia Presbyterian Church 101 West Vandalia Rd
Women’s Resource Center 628 Summit Ave
Youth Focus 405 Parkway Avenue A
YWCA Family Shelter 1807 Wendover Ave East

Responding to Facebook slaughter

You know, I’ve been thinking a lot in the last few days.  Having been slaughtered on Facebook for the op-ed I wrote in the News and Record on Sunday – by the way, I didn’t send in the title, “Homeless Services Don’t Belong Downtown.”  That was from the N&R.  I blogged a very similar piece the week before and titled it, “Move Homeless Services Away From Downtown?”  That’s a question, not an answer.

I want to tell y’all how I feel about homelessness overall, and give you a little more background.  A relative newcomer by some standards, I’ve learned what I’ve learned since February, 2013.  I’ve cared for people deeply and done what I thought was the right thing consistently, the best way I knew how, every step, I have not faltered. I’ve done everything from coordinating food resources to fighting for more days in the shelter.  I’ve had a “Birthday Party for Everybody” and taken folks to Triad Stage to see “Snowqueen.”  I’ve raised money, blogged their personal stories, crusading for folks to see them as people and not a “social problem.” I have fought against the use of the terms “the homeless” because people become labels, and “feeding the homeless,” because you feed dogs and babies, not your friends. Monday, I spoke about homelessness and how folks can help to a group at a law firm. This morning, I’ll be speaking to a garden club.  The list goes on.

Over time, I realized that what I was doing the first couple of years was not helping in any substantive way.  I was helping them survive outside, even trying to give them access to cultural things folks with resources enjoy.  I was in relationship, friendship, with many of them, but it was not helping folks’ situations to change.

So I changed my focus, started thinking about causes of folks dealing with chronic homelessness.  (Note that I’m not talking about folks who lost their job, are down on their luck, stuff like that.  According to HUD, only 4% of people who ever experience homelessness fall into the chronic category.)  Mental illness and substance abuse are the number one causes of chronic homelessness.  As long as we aren’t dealing with those two issues, we’ll just keep getting what we’ve got – and folks will just keep needing a whole lot of homeless services.  And we, as local taxpayers, are going to need to keep being able to foot the bill.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about how we get jobs in here.  I read Thomas Friedman’s November, 2016, book, “Thank You For Being Late,” that talks about how things will be solved on a local level in this century.  I’ve met with several City Council members in the last few weeks and asked them what Raleigh and Charlotte are doing that we’re not, how they are attracting jobs, how we can improve transportation, etc.  So I didn’t just start thinking about the local economy and jobs last week.

And then, whap!  I met Jerry, the guy I wrote about, who told me that having homeless services downtown affects businesses.  It had never occurred to me before that moving homeless services would even be possible.  Frankly, the effects on business and development had not crossed my mind.  I feel guilty (and stupid) saying that.  That means I’ve been considering only one group myself, for years.  That’s not okay.  I tend to fight for the underdog, but how does that work?  Don’t decisions need to consider all parties?  Isn’t success born of compromise and all voices at the table?  Asking very tough questions?

So, I’m taking a firm stand today on my question.  I do think we need to move homeless services out of the downtown business district.  Twenty years ago, when nothing much was going on downtown, it made sense for services to be there.  Today, downtown businesses and homeless services are bumping up against each other.  We need to rethink this and look at what’s workable for all parties.  We need more jobs.

Move Homeless Services Away from Downtown?

Gulp.  Okay, I’ve written some controversial stuff before, but this one will probably take the cake.

I want to tell you about a conversation I had last week.  At Monday morning breakfast – in case you don’t know, my little group of volunteers serves at 7:15am smack dab in the middle of downtown Greensboro, a very visible location.  Most of the time, I don’t actually serve food.  I spend my time mingling.  That way, I have time to talk to people, hug them, and mostly listen to them.  That’s one of the things folks need most in these kinds of circumstances.

If there is someone new, I generally take a couple of minutes to see what’s going on with him or her.  Last Monday, there was a new guy with salt and pepper hair and clear, blue eyes.  We struck up a conversation.

Standing there in my breakfast-serving chicken hat, I said, “Hey, man!  What’s going on?  Are you new in town?”

“Yeah, my name is Jerry.”

I said, “What brings you to Greensboro?  Where did you move here from?”

Jerry responded, “I’m here looking for work.  Came from Raleigh.  Couldn’t find a job there, so thought I’d try Greensboro.  I’m originally from Charlotte.”

“So you’re traveling around?”

Jerry said, “Yeah, I’ve been all over.”

I asked, “Oh, yeah?  Are you living outside or do you have a place?”

Jerry said, “I’m outside right now, but I won’t be as soon as I can find a job.”

I said, “Have you lived outside in other cities?”

Jerry responded, “Yeah, off and on when there’s no work.”

Always curious, next I said, “Tell me about homelessness in other cities.  How is it?  What goes on?”

Jerry had a lot to say about this.  Here’s what he said: “There are homeless people everywhere, but it’s better to be homeless some places than others.  A place you don’t want to be homeless is Columbia, South Carolina.  You know what they do over there?  They have a loitering law.  If you’re caught homeless inside the city limits, the first time, they lock you up overnight.  The second time, they take you to the county line, drop you off and tell you never to come back.  You should see Nashville, Tennessee.  It’s overrun with homeless people.”

Then he rattled off the top five cities in the nation for homeless people, New York, Los Angeles, etc, but I can’t remember what they were.

I said, “How is it in Raleigh?”

Jerry said, “Not bad, but I couldn’t find a job.  They’re doing something new over there, trying to deal with it.  They’re doing homeless services away from downtown, you know, because it affects business.”

I responded, “You think having homeless people downtown affects business?”

Jerry said, “Well, yeah.  Of course it does.  So Raleigh decided they would centralize everything a couple of miles from downtown.”

I said, “You think that’s okay?’

Nodding his head, Jerry said, “Yeah, I think it’s a pretty good idea.  I don’t think things should be anything close to how they do it in Columbia, but I think Raleigh has a pretty good compromise.  Everybody needs a job.  If it brings more jobs, yeah.”

We were standing near the Monday breakfast “seconds line,” where folks line up to go through again if we have food left.  Six or eight people were listening, so I formed a focus group of sorts, right there on the sidewalk, asking people what they thought.

I asked a general question, “If locating homeless services away from downtown, say, over by DSS (Department of Social Services on Maple Street – everybody knows where it is), would get more businesses to come to Greensboro and create more jobs, would y’all be in favor of that?”

Several people nodded in agreement.  We chatted about it for a while.  I said maybe we could have a kitchen where all the groups that provide meals could serve food. People particularly liked that idea.  (I didn’t say this, but thought later that we should have plenty of computer terminals there too, so folks wouldn’t have to use the Central library across from the Children’s Museum.)

I said, “Okay, if ya’ll think this is a good idea, we need to tell City Council.  That’s who sets the policies and makes those kinds of decisions.  It would take some doing to move something like this forward.  What if we all go to the Council meeting and tell them we’d be okay with that?  That we want to see Greensboro do well economically.  That what everybody needs the most is a job.  What do y’all think?”

Jerry spoke first, “When?  I’ll be first in line.  We need jobs.”

I said the next Council meeting is not for a couple of weeks, and explained what it’s like to speak from the floor, that everyone can speak for three minutes, etc.  Folks looked a little uncomfortable with that, like many people do with public speaking.  My friend, Dallas, spoke up, with his wide smile, “No!  I’m not speaking at no City Council meeting!  No!”  And he shook his head.  I love Dallas.  Great guy.

So our little focus group agreed to talk more tomorrow about the possibility of going together to the Council meeting.  I’m guessing there will have been talk about this subject in the homeless community this week.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.

I do think this is a conversation that needs to move forward in Greensboro.   When people have jobs, we all do better.  I took time to check out what’s going on in Raleigh.  Raleigh solution to homeless services

Maybe it’s time for Greensboro to compromise.  And stop cutting off its nose to spite its face.

The Stoned Guy and the Police Officer

When I woke up today, thinking about getting ready to serve breakfast tomorrow morning, I had a knot in my stomach.  Last Monday was not pretty.  When I got there at 7:15am, there was a guy behind the tables where the volunteers are, a very tight space, as there is a concrete bench right behind the tables.  Two members of our Monday breakfast crew were looking over their shoulders nervously.  I got out of the car and several people came running over for a hug, and to help me unload.  In a couple of minutes, I was able to get over there and I asked the guy to come out from behind the table.  He immediately became belligerent.  It was very difficult to understand what he was saying – he was stoned out of his mind and making very little sense.  As we were serving, the guy got worse.  Only once or twice have I ever felt threatened downtown, but this time, I did.  I finally told him I would call the police, to which he responded with more yelling, mostly about not caring if I called the police.  So I asked my friend Judy to please call, so I could keep an eye on this guy.

As soon as it became clear that the police were on the way, this young man made himself scarce, which was helpful.  It’s difficult to have something like that going on when 10 other people are trying to talk to you all at once.  About that time, a middle-aged woman who lives outside and looked as if she had had zero sleep, came over to tell me, “Man, it’s bad out here right now.  Look!”  And she rolled up her sleeves and pants legs to show me her bruises.  She said, “Everybody’s getting beat up.  It’s bad, really bad.”  Then several other people came to echo what she had said.

When the police officer arrived, he introduced himself as a Corporal.  I am not going to use his name, because I did not ask if I could quote him.  He was very polite, and asked what was going on.  I told him about the guy who was, at that point, nowhere to be seen.  As I was talking to him, two women came to wait their turn to talk to him.  One was the woman who had shown me her bruises.   The other was a woman who has been in full-blown psychosis for several months.  She speaks in sentence fragments without taking a breath in-between. The officer handled it extremely well, listening to her for probably 10-15 minutes before I managed to get over there and rescue him – a necessity with her, or he could have been there all day.

I then had a conversation with the officer, telling him that things seem to be particularly violent right now downtown, and sharing that several people had told me that today.  He said, “Oh, boy!  We know!  You’re right.”  We chatted a couple of minutes, and I told him I appreciate the service that he provides for our community.  When I said that, the officer shook his head and looked at the ground.  I asked if he saw the editorial piece “Let’s not paint police with a broad brush” I wrote in the News and Record last week that talked about the police department.  He looked me in the eye, saying, “Ms. Murphy, I don’t read the “News and Record” anymore.  They don’t say anything but bad stuff about our department.  It seems like they have it in for us.  I just can’t understand it.  The officers who have done bad things are only a tiny fraction of us, but in the paper, it looks like it’s everybody.  I just can’t read it anymore.”

My heart sank.  I said, “Corporal ____, I hope you’ll look up that article.  Not everyone feels that way.  There are plenty of people who appreciate the valuable work that you do.  Plenty.”

About that time, our stoned-out-of-his-mind friend came walking up, apologizing to me for his belligerence.  He had a bandage on his hand and asked the police officer to call an ambulance for him.  The officer also handled this guy extremely well, and when I told him a few minutes later that this was the guy I called about, he responded, “Well, at least he apologized.”

A lot was going on, the ambulance coming, lots of people talking, etc, but as I he was leaving, the officer looked back over his shoulder at me, and said, “Thank you, Ms. Murphy.  I’m going to find that article.”  And he smiled.

So… two things:

One, things cannot go on like they are with folks living outside.  We keep doing the same thing, and expecting different results.  One of our volunteers quit this week, and another one told me after breakfast that she felt threatened.  Folks with substance abuse issues (read: opioid epidemic) and mental illness need major help from our community.  We have got to move this buggy forward.  People are getting hurt.  And dying.

Two, please make sure you personally acknowledge the good work our law enforcement folks are doing.  Write a letter to the editor of the “News and Record.”  Stop and thank police officers when you see them.  Don’t wait for someone else to do it.  Remember, this community belongs to every one of us and we are responsible for what’s going on.  You and me.

Update to The Little Green Book and The Little Blue Book

The next official update and semi-annual printing of each book will be in October. But… since one of the Friday night meals and three of the Sunday night meals are no longer served, and lots of folks are asking to print the files, I thought an in-between update would be helpful.  It is sooo not okay for folks to walk to a meal or pantry location and go away empty-handed.  Here are the updated files:

The Little Green Book 07-12-2017

The Little Blue Book 07-12-2017

 

 

Murderer in the Breakfast Line


The alarm went off today at 5am, just like every Monday.  I rolled out of bed, happy to have the two new coolers I bought yesterday – they’ll help keep 100 pieces of chicken hot – but sad knowing what I would have to announce today.  I put the first two pans of chicken in the oven, followed by the second two pans around 6:15, then hopped in the shower.  When I got out of the shower, there was a voicemail from my friend, Rock.

I hit “call back” and waited for him to answer.

Rock: “Hello?”

Me: “Hey, my friend, this is Amy.”

Rock: “Who?”

Me: “The Chicken Lady.”

Rock: “Oh!  Hey, Miss Amy.”

Me: “Rock, I am so sorry.  I don’t know what to say to you.”

A minute of silence, then Rock, in a clear voice: “Ms. Betty said you wanted to know about the funeral  arrangements for my son.”

Me: “Yes, I’d like to make an announcement at breakfast this morning.”

Rock: “The funeral will be today at 1:00, then there will be a memorial service from 5-7pm on Wednesday at the IRC.  The funeral will be at Lowe’s Funeral Home in Burlington.  We had the wake last night.”

Me: “I am so sorry, Rock.  Are you makin’ it okay?”

Rock: “Yeah, I’m just sittin’ here, lookin’ through all the sympathy cards.  I can’t believe how many people love me.  And how many people loved him.  It’s amazin’!”

Me: “Yes, they do love you. We all do.”

Rock: “And I’m goin’ to work.  My bossman keeps tellin’ me to go home, but I need to stay busy.  I have to.  Keeps my mind off of things.”

Me:  “Sounds like a good idea right now.  Sounds like you’re taking care of yourself.  Good.  Remember all those people who love you.  And I’m sure a bunch of us will see you today and Wednesday.”

Rock: “Okay, Ms. Amy.”

Me: “I better get this chicken downtown.  I’ll see you Wednesday.”

Rock: “Okay, sounds good.”

Me: “I love you.”

Rock: “Love you too.”

And we hang up.

Rock’s son was killed last Wednesday, shot on Gate City Boulevard, close to the Greensboro Urban Ministry, where everyone gathers to eat lunch.  According to the News and Record, his son did not have a permanent address.  Rock is housed and has a job, and has been a guest at Monday breakfast for years – and for the last two years or so, has helped serve.  He calls out numbers, and grinning, says to me almost every week, “I’ll call out the numbers today. It’s my yob.”  The “y” is not a typo.  Rock is funny, but not today.  The shooter is still on the lam.

I load up the coolers full of hot chicken, get in the car, and take off downtown around 7am.  When I drive up, there is Thomas, my friend, the self-professed HIV/AIDS activist, waving his arms in my usual parking space, grinning from ear-to-ear with his flame red hair and beard.  He’s a great guy, and is a speaker everywhere about his life as “a former crack addict who has had HIV, Hepatitis C and genital herpes for 20+ years.” Awesome Thomas, I love this man.

Once we are ready to serve, I make the announcement about Rock’s son.  Sorrow in so many faces.   So many.   And tears, some of them mine.  A man volunteers to pray, and he does, beautifully and from his heart.

Since Rock is not there, I call out the numbers today.  As I’m hugging folks when I call their numbers, a couple of people tell me they need to talk with me once I’m finished serving.  Another guy is stoned out of his mind and is behaving very erratically.  A friend who has HIV (he shall remain nameless) is still talking about getting surgery that he needs and I encourage him to go and see his caseworker.  He says he will, but that’s what he always says.

The line finishes and I grab some coffee.  The first guy who said he wanted to talk to me comes over.  He is dressed in a uniform and I ask if he just got off work.  He says, “No, I’m going to work.”  I ask where and he responds, “K&W.  I’m working there, but not sure if I’ll be able to keep my hours.  There’s somebody on sick leave and they may be able to come back.  I need some help – I may be outside again for the winter.  I need a tent and blankets.  Can you help me?”  I tell him I don’t have tents and blankets, but give him the name of someone I know who does.  He thanks me, and now my friend, Gaither, is waiting to talk to me.

Gaither: “Hey, you got a minute?”

Me: “Sure.”

Gaither:  “Did you hear about the man who was stabbed in front of the courthouse last week?  That was me.”

My mouth hangs open.

Gaither: “Yeah, it was me.”  He shakes his head.

Me: “You were stabbed?”

Gaither: “Yeah, five times, once in the side – he nicked my heart, once in the neck, once in the finger because I was trying to get the knife away from him, once in the back, and once here, “ pointing to his side.

I can still hardly speak.

Me: “What happened? Who did this? Did they get the guy?”

Gaither: “Yeah, they got him.  It was a guy who’s been coming through your breakfast line for a few weeks now.  He just got out of prison.  He had been camping over near where my friend and I do, and he didn’t like us.  He had said he was going to kill me, but I didn’t take him seriously.  I know now I should have.  I was just sitting there in front of the courthouse, cleaning out by backpack, so I had all my stuff strewn out.  I noticed he was looking at me, but I wasn’t really paying attention.  Next thing I knew, he started stabbing me. “ He points again to the wound on his side. “They sewed this one up and put staples in my neck.”  Gaither is wearing a hood – it was chilly this morning – and I notice his jaw and neck are swollen.  “Yeah, he left me for dead, just laying there in a pool of blood.  I stopped remembering at some point, ’cause when I woke up, somebody was telling me not to get up.  So somebody came and called the police.  When I woke up, the fire department was there, already rinsing the blood off the concrete slab.  I guess I almost bled out.”

Me, speechless for a while, finally: “And they got the guy?”

Gaither: “Yeah, they got him.  It wasn’t very hard.  He was covered in blood.  I’m glad they got him.”

Me:  “Yeah, me too.  He belongs in prison. “

Gaither: “Yeah, he’ll be charged with attempted murder.”

And we talked for a while more.

Gaither: “Pray for me, okay?   Can you pray for me?”

Me: “Yes, I will pray for you.  And I’ll see you next week.  Love you, friend.”

Gaither: “Love you too.  Stay safe.”

And he walks away.

I get in the car and call my friend, Shirley, “The Coffee Lady,” as our friends call her.  I tell her about the conversation.  And then I take a long walk, thinking and thinking.

So that brings us to right now.  And here’s what I have to say:

What in the world are we thinking?  Who do you know that does not deserve to be safe? What about the man who serves food and washes dishes in restaurants like K&W, where hundreds of people dine every week?  Just because you messed up at some point in your life, or you have a substance abuse issue, or you are not socially or mentally capable of getting your own housing, do you deserve to not be able to lock your door and sleep in a safe place?

When I was on the trail, I was thinking about Woogamonster, my twelve pound dog.  A pair of large owls have moved into the neighborhood and I won’t let him go outside alone at night now.  I couldn’t help but see the contrast.  Safety.

There has been a person capable of murder, the heinous act of stabbing Gaither multiple times, coming through our breakfast line on Monday mornings for the last few weeks.  And the other folks in line sleep outside, unsafe and exposed, every night.  I can’t wrap my head around that.  I just can’t.

Y’all, if we think it’s less costly to put people in the hospital, the revolving doors of the jails and prisons, and all the other services that are needed for folks dealing with homelessness, we are simply not thinking.

This is the United States of America.  We can afford to house every man, woman and child in this country.  So far, we haven’t had the will to do it as a nation.  But we could do it as a city.  Would I be willing to pay more taxes?  Yes, I would.  Would you?  Will you contact your City Councilman and ask them to figure out a way now to house people who are dealing with homelessness?