"I sleep on the street," William told us. "I cover up with my blankets. My blankets are precious to me because of the cold. One night last week, I woke up and realized there was another person under my blankets with me! A perfect stranger just trying to stay warm. He meant me no harm at all!"
William told his story yesterday during one of our site visits by the United Way committee that will determine our funding level for our housing efforts for the coming year. Thanks to Rev. Jay Cole, director of Crossroads Community Services (a ministry of First United Methodist Church and one of our partners in outreach to the homeless in Downtown Dallas), five men joined us for the interview and tour. We met in the lobby of our recently acquired office building at 511 N. Akard, otherwise known as CityWalk @ Akard.
"The shelters don't allow us to store our belongings," Roger explained. "If we leave our stuff, they throw it away. What is precious to me, may not be to you, but it is to me!"
"If we look through the trash for what they throw away, they ban us from the shelters," William added. "We just need a place to leave our belongings, a place that is ours."
Three other gentlemen spoke--"Wild Bill," Leon and Troy. Like their other two friends, each was articulate, clear, honest, rational and impressive.
Leon told us that he was living in a shelter at present where everything was "beans and rice and Jesus Christ!" But he said he was glad for the bed, even though the shelter turned everyone out onto the streets at 5:00 a.m. every morning. He has a job, so it works for him.
"But, what I really need is a place of my own," he added.
"Wild Bill" described his campground home.
Troy told us about his struggle with drugs and life.
When the men were done, we all sat in silence for a few moments before the committee's questions broke the silence.
I think we all realized what great neighbors these five men would make.
As I spoke with them afterwards, it was clear that the thought of a place of their own was beyond their ability to conceive at this point. The longer we visited, the more hopeful they became as I described apartments we would begin offering in May at another location in Dallas.
"Would the apartment be furnished?" Roger asked.
When I told him that it would be, unless he wanted to use his own furniture, he just shook his head and said, "Do you know how long it has been since I slept on my own bed?"
William told the group during our formal presentation that one of the greatest needs of all is for simple privacy.
"I'd like to be able to shut the door and take a shower or use the restroom. There is no privacy for any of us."
"Every day we fall in line to join the 'parade' from place to place Downtown," Roger told us. "We need a place to call home where this can stop."
All the comments began when I asked these men the simple question, "What would an apartment of your own mean to you?"
I came away more convinced than ever that most of us don't understand much at all about homeless people. Further, about all we need to understand is that they need a home, a place they can call their own.
We're working on that right now.