by James Jude Patton
This is what a homeless would expect to go through if he depended on a charity for shelter. He would wake up between 5-6:30 a.m. In some rescue missions they serve coffee and/or a doughnut but most do not. Many times the mission staff would be homeless volunteers and they would steal any money made by selling blood plasma.
You would get dressed. In many missions the staff would keep your clothing and you would sleep in your underwear. This would prevent somebody from killing another person at night because the killer could not make a getaway because his clothes were locked up. The homeless people would usually be woken up by the lights being turned on. Sometimes the lights would remain on all night. In the morning one of the staff would shout for the homeless men to wake up. The homeless people had to wait in line for long periods of time to get their clothes and almost everything else.
Upon leaving the shelter you could go to a temporary labor place if there was one. But more likely to a library. Most libraries open- at the earliest at 8:00 a.m. Waiting for libraries or blood plasma places to open takes up a lot time for the homeless.
If you slept in the mission for three nights and there was no other place for transients to sleep then you would probably be on the interstate hitchhiking by 8:00 a.m.- Most missions across the country only give you three nights lodging every 30 days, and in most cities there is usually just a single mission. If there was a bridge over the interstate at the off ramp where you were let off last. You could sleep under the bridge- the bridge being your shelter.
A homeless man could expect to sleep under a bridge alongside an interstate highway about half the time. Sometimes the bridge would leak and you would be wet as you slept under the bridge. It could be too cold to sleep for some and you would wake up fitfully during the night. If you stayed in a city instead of hitchhiking to a different city then you have to find a place to hide so that you would not be a victim of a crime. Usually a homeless man could have no more than 6 meals over 6 days. (Not 6 a day but one a day). Many times there were churches that fed the homeless, and you might be able to get a sandwich.
After being homeless for six months, the homeless person is used to not eating for two to three days in a row. Also many homeless go some place warm for the winter in much the same way the birds migrate south.
The people who ran the missions let you know that they didn’t give you more what was the set allowance for any one night. They usually let you know that if you didn’t like it you could always go to another city. The map of the interstate highway system of the U.S. would help you get to another city through hitchhiking. If the homeless person could still get a bed he would probably wait in the library until check-in time which would be different at different missions. But many times it would be at 5:00 p.m. and check-in would usually include filling out forms on who you were and where you headed.
There would be a religious preacher for at least an hour; many times for an hour and half. The religion of most missions is two things if anything—loud and simple. Because you have to go to service to get a bed for the night it is not only demeaning it has a brainwashing effect. I was always worried about losing my religion, because the missions were usually funded by a different religion than mine.
The transients had not yet showered for the evening and if you were clean and it was crowded , and it usually was, the stench would be overwhelming. Showers are mandatory, but washing your clothes in sinks are always prohibited. So you still smell bad, because your clothes smell bad. After service you could expect a second helping especially if there was no place in the city to eat breakfast or lunch then there would be showers and you get a towel to dry off with- to get a towel you would have to check your clothing in a basket for the night as mentioned earlier.
There were people who went to the missions who were not the denomination of the preacher. There is a simple rule: "To get a bed you have to sign in and go to service". The homeless shelters are a lot like prisons in that they institutionalize people. They tell you when to get up, when to shower, when to go to sleep and when to shave if they let you.
On some days, you may get to see a social worker if you are homeless for a long period of time. Waiting in line is the routine of the day. You wait in line to get in the mission, for the library to open, you wait for lunch, and you wait for a ride.
I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and I was surprised that I was rested. When I went to sleep, I worried...
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published March – April 1996 – Issue 14