By Carol Bevier
On January 29, 1999 I packed a small bag with several articles of clothing. The rest of my belongings I packed into boxes and old laundry baskets. The world that I had known as a new bride had come to an end and a new life of uncertainty had begun. That night, as most of my world sat in the back on my mother’s van, I laid in a shelter, crying myself to sleep.
From there, I went into transitional living program. I had a small, but private room of my own. I went through a divorce, got my life turned around and went back to college. After fourteen months I was move into my own apartment. I filled out all the paper work, handed over some money and received my keys. I was finally home. It was such a good feeling. I moved in a bed, pots and pans, curtains, and my large monkey collection. I spent the next several months going to school and doing homework. I guess that it was an OK thing to do, but there was emptiness within me. I wanted to do something for someone else; so that they could have the same secure feeling that I had given.
A good friend of mine told me about her job at AmeriCorps, and how rewarding it was to house some of the homeless here in Cleveland. This sounded like something that I would enjoy doing. I was really excited bout this because “Bridging The Gap” was the same agency that had housed me in my apartment.
I applied for the job, was interviewed and started working in January. I worked in the office, answering the phone and talking to our clients all day. Many of them come into the office to do their paper work. We have a few who visit on a regular basis, and others who call several times a week. I love spending time with them. Katherine came into my office smiling from ear to ear. She had been hired as an outreach worker. We talked for a while about her job, and then I asked if I could tag along with her one day. She set me up with a guy named Bill. He has been doing outreach here in Cleveland for about 18 months.
That Thursday evening I climbed into bed and pulled my fuzzy blanket up around my head and cried. My attitude about life had changed completely in those four hours of outreach. I no longer saw myself as a person who deserved the things I have, I now saw myself as a person who deserved the things I have, I now saw myself as being truly blessed to be able to live the live I had been given.
After loading up Bill’s van with clothes and food, we headed out to my neighborhood. Just a few blocks from where I live, two men share an old pick-up truck bed-cab. It is about the size of a double bed and about fifteen inches tall. They must crawl into their home like snakes on their bellies. We continued our journey to a block just north of my home. There under another bridge several other men lived. One had nothing but a mattress. He had no protection from the wind, rain, sun or snow. Just around the support beam. Was a small shelter that had been put together with old boxes, splinters of boards, and plastic. None of the men would come out and talk to us, but we left them some packed lunches and headed on down the road.
Our next stop we saw a man we called J.B. He lives in a small tent city below a main highway. We handed him a lunch and he quickly opened it and grabbed the meat out of the sandwich. With a hungry look on his face, he tore the meat into small pieces and fed all of his cats, before taking a bite for himself. Bill asked him what else he wanted from us, and he replied, “Just some loving.” We took turns giving J.B. some big hugs and then headed off to another bridge.
Each place we stopped made me realize just how humane each of thee people are. Under a triple overpass, just down the hill from a major section of town, we saw a board that two brothers had wedged under a bridge to use as a bunk type bed. There were dirty wet clothes and paper all around they’re sleeping space, but in the middle of all this mess, sat a bottle of laundry soap. Once again we left some food, clothes, and blankets. One young lady refused a third article of clothing saying, “There are too many of us for me to be selfish like that.”
If it had not been for AmeriCorps, I never would have had the experience of outreach. This experience is something that I will never forget. I plan to make it an ongoing event in my life. No book ever written could have taught me what it is like beneath the ground that I walk on.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #47 -2001