Contributed by Michelle Overstreet
Recently, we had a young lady walking down the middle of Herning Street past MY House. Shorts and a well-worn tee shirt several sizes too big for hung on her concentration camp figure. No shoes and blisters the size of quarters on her heels. No coat, and it was an overcast and breezy day. Beaten, missing an incisor tooth on the left side, as if someone had punched her in the face with a right hand. She was crying and bereft.
We invited her in for a hot meal, served from 3pm-4pm every day in the Café for any homeless youth who is interested. She started to sit at the table, and then pulled her chair away and wept. “What is this place?” she asked. “It’s MY House,” one of the clients replied. And she looked confused. We clarified that that is the name of the drop-in center for homeless youth in the Valley. The clients at the table just allowed her to be there, each having had their own experiences with being homeless and offering a grace that was their own to give. She eventually pulled her chair over and had some food.
She was invited back to case management and offered a shower, to which she said, “I’d love a shower,” and she was asked if she would like to soak her feet. She didn’t want to, just a shower would be fine. Asked if she would like clean socks and underwear, and a clean change of clothes she said, “Okay,” and then asked, “Where will you get them?” With the help of a formerly homeless staff from the shop, she received socks and underwear, and chose a thin pair of leggings and a soft workout style top, with a tee shirt to wear over.
After receiving a small package with everything she would need to take a shower, personal care items and a couple of towels, she went in the bathroom. She seemed dazed, but not on drugs. After showering, she asked if we had a place she could lay down for a few minutes; she said she was walking around all night and exhausted. We said we didn’t, but before we knew what was happening, she collapsed face down onto the display bed in the thrift shop, spent. This whole time, there were probably a total of a dozen homeless or formerly homeless youth in the area, doing their tasks, expressing concern but not drama, and with expressions of concern offering support as needed. Nobody judged her. Nobody gave advice that they knew she wouldn’t want. None of the kids tried to tell her their sad stories. But everyone was respectful and kind.
In the end, she got a warm, wooly coat that was too big to keep her warm. She didn’t want to go to the domestic violence shelter or another homeless shelter. She didn’t know where to go and in a short amount of time, called “her man” to come and pick her up. It was clear that this was who beat her, and who kept her without shoes. She didn’t want to be shamed for her choice, just to go “home”. As she was leaving, she was told that she deserves more than this. That she is better than this. And that we would be here if she wanted to come back and change her housing and find a safer situation for her. She responded with, “Okay,” as she walked away. Then she turned and hugged, held on for a moment too long, saying, “Thank you, you people are a Godsend.”
And we all went back to work. Because this is what we do. And because at some point, she will probably be back, because love always wins, kindness trumps cruelty and good defeats evil. One small effort at a time.