Recently, I volunteered at Urban Ministries to serve lunch time drinks to the homeless. I was part of a team from the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association, Outreach Committee. Prior to our volunteering, I had read an article about the homeless folks using the benches in the uptown square or on Tryon St. The article talked about homeless people using the benches at the square and how this use could deter new big business from wanting to locate to Charlotte, NC. So the solution is to remove the benches. I do not have an answer or debate about this issue but my eyes have been opened in a new way after volunteering at Urban Ministries.
When we finished up, I decided to drive down N. Tryon St., towards the square at Trade and Tryon, to see the homeless people and the benches. As I left Urban Ministries, the day was still grey, not raining, but still promising rain. I drove around the curve passing the side of the building and I saw one of the gentlemen I had just shared time with, making a bed up against the side of the Urban Ministries building on the grass. He literally laid down a blanket and then another one and was getting in between the two to sleep. I paused, thinking, “Should I rent him a room somewhere?” How would I do it? Would I get him in my car and then go where? How would he get back to Urban Ministries tomorrow or the soup kitchen tonight? I had a thousand thoughts in 30 seconds. Then someone pulled up behind me and I moved forward leaving him in the grass. As I started down Tryon toward the square, I saw Steve tooling down N. Tryon on the sidewalk. I had just met Steve. He uses an automated wheel chair. When he was in line to get his drink I offered to help him. He said “No thanks, I’ve got it.” He reminded me of Grandpa Chuck. Later, I noticed he was eating alone, so I walked over to chat a bit and rested my hand on his back. He was a bit frail. I saw other folks too; that I had just shook hands with, brought water to, and learned their names.
Then as I drew closer to the square, I saw the tourists in their nice clothes, the horse and buggy rides, more people in nice clean clothes and they just kept walking and riding and laughing and looking at the beautiful buildings while there were broken people scattered all around them. I am not calling out the tourists because I am like them. When I encounter someone that is yelling out at no one or asking me for money in a place that does not feel safe, I do not know what to do or how to act.
Today, I met Steve, Kenneth and a young couple (he was on crutches and she carried both of their food trays and when I offered to carry their drinks, he declined help and put one in each of his jacket pockets and reminded us that one of the soft drinks was hers and that he was not taking an extra one for himself) and the women living under the bridge that showed me her scar from heart surgery and told me she was raped in a hotel room. And so many others. It was a slow day, we only served about 200 people.
You know, for me, it was not the inside of the Urban Ministries building, it was seeing the people, that were now "My People" out on the streets. "My People", "Our People" are not throw away’s. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/07/31/5079018/homeless-crowd-at-trade-tryon.html#.U-gNmPldWSp