May 24, 2008

What should a homeless man do with his dry cleaning?

Fast forward to the present ...
I have perhaps a dozen posts for this blog that are planned or in the works, but with the many needs I have for the brief one-hour's time I get online at the library, my homeless story is slow unspooling. There's going to need to be a lot of backfill to tell all I want to say. When I get my laptop, again, hopefully, I'll be able to catch up with where I want to be with this blog.
Today, I choose to write about very current events. Last Wednesday, having finally recovered from the dire, drawn-out effects of food poisoning, I took public transportation to the city of Carmichael to pick up a very nice suit, a sports jacket and dress pants I'd left at the dry cleaners a month ago. These were clothes for me to wear to my mother's funeral and burial that, it turned out, I didn't need since my mother's death had been transformed into "a celebration of Carol" by my sociopathic sister, Carol.

Anyway, being a homeless person shlepping three-hangers weighted with nice dry-cleaned clothes is a little weird. Fortunately, the fierce, swirling winds of the prior two days had abated. And now I needed to deal with my problem: What the hell do I do with these clothes that I'd saved from being sent to Goodwill by the cleaners?

"Homeless central" in metropolitan Sacramento is a place named Loaves & Fishes, colloquially and affectionately known as just "Loaves" by the population it serves. It's town square is a small fenced-in trees-shaded area called Friendship Park and outside it are the offices or rooms of perhaps a dozen homeless-services organizations. One of the orgs is Genesis which offers mental-health counselling and referals. About five days ago, I had met briefly with Vince, an extremely nice, compassionate counsellor there. Perhaps he could hold my clothes for a day or two, I thought. Another option was to ask Jerry who runs the day storage in Loaves' Friendship Park to hold my clothes.

Ultimately, I would need somebody I knew to take the clothes for the month or two it might take for me to get re-established with a job and housing. For all this, my "saviour candidates" were Terry, my high school friend, whose second home is in Mt. Autum, maybe forty miles away, and Steve, my online friend with whom I co-blogged Thoughts Chase Thoughts and who lives in north Sacramento.

For the short term, I decided to foist my clothes off on poor Vince. Day storage had started handing out slips threatening to always discard items that weren't picked up before Friendship Park closed early weekday afternoons. While I knew the discard threat was idle, it perhaps did suggest how unsafe from theft items were in the little storage shed overnight, without Bodhisattva Jerry watching over things.

So, leaving my duffobag outside, I walked in to the Genesis office, holding up my dry cleaning, and asked the receptionist if it might be OK for Genesis to hold them for me for a short spell.

Vince came in from the back office. "Let me check," he said and headed back where he had been.

Suddenly, I became very aware of the four or five people seated in the little waiting area I was in. And it dawned on me how inappropriate it was for me to be asking Vince -- or any homelss service people or organization -- for something extra outside of what they directly do. More so than a teacher-student or boss-employee relationship, there are strictures to be maintained, a gulf to be respected between the lives of the server and the served, the ordinant and the subordinant. A gulf between the homeless-services provider and their targetted population should be particularly wide due both to the aptness of many homeless people to take advantage of others and the liberal orientation of the service providers, making them particularly vunerable to being taken advantage of.

[more to come]

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