Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Homeless Sleep I, Chicago, IL
Homeless Sleep II, Chicago, IL

I captured these two images on park benches from bridges that overlooked public spaces in downtown Chicago. They probably could have been taken in any city in the world at any time. I don’t know for certain that these fellow travelers are homeless, but it would seem to be a good assumption. They are nameless and certainly faceless in the second image. We had noticed the first man wildly gesturing and talking to no one in particular on Michigan Avenue earlier in the day. He perhaps represents a significant percent of homeless people that have a mental disability. A somewhat familiar homeless man in the local area has been living on a park bench near an underpass for years. A reporter that befriended him later learned that he has a family in another state, but he cannot bear to live anywhere but alone and is incapable of most human interaction. Although it was a relatively chilly October day, the other homeless person who could be either male or female, was sleeping barefoot on a bench. I’ve never been without a warm bed at night. I have no idea what it must be like for these people.

I’ve volunteered to serve at homeless shelters in the past. That experience helped to provide both a face and a soul to the homeless for me. One particular evening after a brief worship service led by the shelter manager, he asked if anyone would like to give a testamonial for the shelter. The first man to stand up noted that he was an addict that had once stabbed his own father, but he had been clean for the past three months and was trying hard to stay that way. One relatively young man stood up and said he had a terminal disease and was in town to voluntarily receive an experimental drug. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if he was speaking of AIDS or just BS. When we’re confronted with people who attempt to con us on a regular basis, it’s easy to become a cynic. OJ is still looking for the murderer. Perhaps he’s on to something by looking in the prison where he currently lives. And then there’s Scott Peterson and the young woman who claimed a crazy black woman threw acid in her sun glassed face one night. But another older dignified man stood up that evening and stated that he had just stepped off a bus that afternoon. He had no money and no place to sleep. He hoped he could find a job in the area, as there were none where he had been living. Hopefully, he’ll make it with a little boost from others more fortunate.

It’s noted in the movie, The Soloist, that there are 90,000 homeless on the streets of Los Angeles alone. There are 3.4 million homeless in the United States including 1.4 million children. A reporter who befriends a mentally ill, musically gifted, homeless man, spends a night with him to better understand his world on the street. He observes that the LA skid row is like a human landfill of the discarded and abandoned. He struggles to sort out the boy genius and the lost traveler, "knowing that every night he tucks his instruments away and lays his head down among predators, hustlers and all of the fallen drunks as rats the size of a meatloaf emerge from drains to feed off the squalor". As the homeless Nathaniel settles into a makeshift bed of cardboard and plastic sheeting, he observes his surroundings and wistfully implores, “I believe these children of God are gonna be OK tonight. They’re gonna sleep and dream as humans do…I hope you sleep well, Mr. Lopez. I hope the whole world sleeps well.”

We have a simple “Hunger Pot” that is placed at the front of our church sanctuary to collect both food and money for the homeless after a service. It’s fittingly not a silver chalice or shiny brass collection plate, but a simple steel soup pot from the kitchen with burn marks around the bottom edges. These iconic images of the homeless will be with me when I give something to help those living on the street next Sunday. These people are human beings just like me, except their lives have gone terribly wrong for many reasons. As I write this post in the cold early morning hour, perhaps my contributions will help them sleep just a bit easier, while these images disturb my own sleep; as well they should these days. The world shouldn't sleep well until the whole world can sleep well.

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