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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Robert's Story: He chose a cold sidewalk over a warm bed . . .

Jake Folger

Robert is another of those never ending list of folks I have met while having coffee early in the morning in [Washington D.C.'s] Dupont Circle before my AA meeting. Only Robert is obviously different.

The first morning I saw him out on Starbuck's patio, he was sipping a cup of coffee and surfing the web on his lap top. A large, rolling suitcase sat beside him on the patio floor. Robert looked a lot more like a traveling businessman than a homeless person.

However, as days passed, I began to realize that Robert was always wearing the same set of clothes. Eventually I approached him saying, "Hi, I'm Jake. I'm an advocate for the homeless. Are you homeless?" He was indeed.

We began talking about his plight. He was receiving disability checks, which was not enough money to afford him a place to live.

Robert refused to live in a shelter. He, like so many homeless people didn't like shelters. The reasons are good ones. Shelters can be very dangerous places. There often are violent people, sick, angry and surly people all crowded into a small space. There is often a lot of thievery as well. And, the staff can be very surly too. Shelters often are just not a safe place for homeless people to be. Many will choose the streets to sleep on rather than a shelter. Such was the case with Robert.

He had applied for subsidized housing and was waiting for a slot to open up. Until that time, Robert, the other homeless folks and I met daily for coffee and conversation. I helped him mostly with friendship and some clothing. He eventually got his place and dropped out of the picture.

My meeting Robert reminded me of two things. One, that you don't have to look like your homeless to be homeless. And that sometimes it is preferred to stay "out there" to stay safe.

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