Some Organizations Only Say They Are Helping the Homeless

Commentary by James Jude Patton

In my years of being on the street I met with many charitable organizations whose workers gave of their time and energy to relieve the suffering of the street people. Sometimes, I met people who were self-serving while they worked for charitable organizations. Here is one story.

It was in 1986 that I found myself in St. Louis. Altogether I had been homeless between three and four years. One day in the spring I was walking down a major artery of the city, in a prime office space district of the city. I squinted (because I needed glasses) to read the sign. It was the Lions Club.

A few days later while discussing my problems with a social worker for the homeless. I learned that the Lions Club helped people with eye problems. The very next day, I went back to the Lions Club building. Walking past the manicured lawns, I entered the air-conditioned building. Immediately to the left after entering, I met the receptionist. She had me take a seat after about ten minutes she very briefly interviewed me. She found through a question that I was homeless. She then gave me an appointment to come back in two weeks.

I waited for the appointment day with anxiety and hope. I went back on the appointed day fifteen minutes early, only to be told that I had canceled the appointment. I told the receptionist that I had not canceled the appointment. She rescheduled me for an appointment in three months. It should be noted that I saw three employees in the Lions Club building but never, oddly enough, anybody else seeking help.

I though to myself after the reschedule, “Its worth a try.” I managed to stay in the St Louis area for three months. I made it to the Lions Club professional building ninety minutes early only to have the receptionist say to me “You canceled your appointment.” I replied, “You used that one last time.” I waited past my appointment time by fifteen minutes when a man came out with a box of eyeglasses that was the size of a shoebox.

There were about twenty pair of glasses. None were any good for me. About half the glasses were from the fifties and sixties, and one was for a child. I asked to see the manager, and the man with the eyeglasses said that he was the manager. I asked if I could be seen that day, anyway. I waited for over two hours. The man that had shown me the eyeglasses came back and told me that I had to go.

I asked the manager three times, “Do you help homeless people?” The manager looked me straight in the eye and said, “We don’t help homeless people. “ To my surprise he said it to himself and barely audibly two more times. The manager followed me the short distance out. I never did see any body helped at the Lions Club building, homeless or not. Eventually I made my way to Cleveland, which I consider the crossroads for America’s homeless. I was able to find permanent housing in Cleveland. Through the Metro Health System I got comprehensive eye care and got a pair of glasses.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 22, August-September 1997, Cleveland, Ohio