Marcia’s Law – The Kindness of Strangers
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
-Blanche Dubois “A Streetcar Named Desire”
I could hear them; talking loudly, calling to each other, gathering their things even as I pounded on the solidly locked basement door. There was no bell. The window was boarded up. The stairwell, a typical Chicago cement entryway, was littered, chipped, and pitted; the paint on the metal railings was peeling and flaking.
When the door opened, a young woman greeted me with a cheery hello and showed me to the kitchen; a tiny, filthy room in which not an inch of space could be spared for putting down my things. I peeked out the window where they were, still talking, still gathering, still pulling themselves together. These were LGBTQ homeless youths who had managed, through a lottery system, to secure a warm place to sleep for the night.
There were about twenty of them that morning. They had been awakened and told to get moving. So, they dragged their mats across the linoleum-tiled floor into the storage room, took showers in the community bathroom, and tried to pull themselves together. The clock was ticking. It was 7:45 already, and they had to be out by 9:00 A.M.
We brought them breakfast; scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, ham and egg casserole, waffles, French toast, biscuits, orange juice, and bananas. One by one, they came for the food. Some shy; some boisterous; some angry; others cheerful and smiling. They looked tired, worn, uncared for. They loaded up their plates, came back for seconds, took the crackers, oranges, sweet breads, and leftovers in baggies…they didn’t know where their next meal would come from.
They thanked us, each and every one of them. And then, they left.
“Where will they go?” I asked. “It’s freezing out there.” “They’ll try to find a warm place to stay for the day. They’ll move from place to place, depending upon whether or not they get kicked out. They’ll just try to stay warm until they find a place to stay tonight,” responded the single staff member as, he too, ate breakfast.
These are the kids who, for a variety of reasons, no longer have a home to go to or a family that cares for them. They are “throw away” children, and they are totally dependent on the kindness of strangers.
But, these young people had been lucky. The previous night, they had secured a spot in this shelter, and this morning, anyway, they were getting a hot breakfast. However, according to the National Homeless Fact Sheet, “LGBT persons often have great difficulty finding shelters that accept and respect them. 20% of homeless youth are LGBT. In comparison, the general youth population is only 10% LGBT”. These then, were the lucky ones.
I wondered what these kids would be doing if they still lived at home. The youngest, perhaps still in high school, might be sleeping in, then visiting family, finally settling down to tackle the homework that had been put off all weekend. The older ones, if they were in college, might head for the library to study, hang out in the dorm, or meet at the Student Union for a cup of coffee. Those who worked might use the day off to visit one of the many museums the city has to offer, take a drive, or go to the movies.
But these young men and women would spend the day on the streets. Some might panhandle or prostitute themselves for a few dollars. Others might try to find a warm place to hang out. And a few might actually visit a friend. But most of them would wander aimlessly around the streets of Chicago; unwanted, uncared for, abandoned, and alone.
This experience caused me to reflect upon my own perspectives about homelessness. Seeing it up close and realizing the hardships they face every single day made me realize that I need to extend myself a little more. Is it so hard to throw a dollar in a cup every once in a while? Is it too much to buy someone a cup of coffee? Is it asking a lot to volunteer my time to help those so clearly in need?
I think I know the answer…and I believe that, while I can’t change their circumstances completely, I can make things a little easier with small acts of kindness. We all can…and by performing these small acts, we make our own lives a little richer. THAT is why the kindness of strangers is so important.
…And I’m just a mom who loves her son…