At the day shelter for homeless men where I am privileged to work, there are countless moments of immense joy and heartbreaking sorrow experienced by the nearly 200 men who walk through our doors each day. Some of these men come and go without me making a connection with them. Some men and I have an instant connection and get to know each other rather well, while other connections are formed very slowly over time. It is the latter relationships that end up meaning the most to me, for they tend to be made with some of the most vulnerable souls. This is the story of one such soul, Andrew.
I don’t recall when I first encountered Andrew, but I will never forget him. Andrew is a formidable presence, as he stands over six feet tall and has a striking appearance, yet he is very quiet and shy and prefers to sit by himself in the day shelter. He rarely interacts with the other gentlemen, staff, or volunteers, as he enjoys a cup of coffee and sits silently, sometimes watching television and sometimes staring off into the distance at nothing in particular. He is a calming presence in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the day shelter. The only thing I knew about Andrew, beyond basic demographic information, was that he camps out rather than staying at one of the emergency overnight shelters. Whenever I would greet him, he would give me a slight nod to indicate that he had heard me, but then, he would quickly look away, avoiding any further contact with me. Recently, though, that all changed.
Not long ago, as I folded towels and wash cloths in the day shelter’s laundry room, I was pleasantly surprised to look up to see Andrew standing in the doorway. I was even more surprised when he asked me if I knew where he could buy some dry pet shampoo. His inquiry caught me off-guard, but I assumed that he had a cat or a dog, like some of the other gentlemen who find it easier to connect with an animal than people. We talked about a nearby pet supply store that carried his sought after item, and he thanked me and walked away. Over the course of the next few weeks, whenever I was in the laundry room, Andrew began to appear in the doorway, and in his lovely southern lilt, he began to share more details about himself. I first learned that the pet shampoo was for him, not an animal, as he needed a dry shampoo to take care of his basic hygiene needs at his camp. As luck would have it, several bottles of dry shampoo had been donated to the day shelter, so, I was able to fill his meager request. His gratitude for this small item was humbling. Last week, he shared something that was even more humbling.
During one of our laundry room conversations, Andrew talked about the possibility of returning to his hometown, which is several hours south of Louisville. He explained that he left there over a decade ago and went on to say that his parents lived abroad and worked for the government, hinting at the mental illness he manages as best he can. It was then that he mentioned his camp, and I asked if his camp was near the day shelter, as our gentlemen camp in areas all over the city. I was stunned when Andrew told me the exact location of his camp. This may not seem like a significant self-disclosure, but many of the gentlemen who camp keep their location private. They do so for a number of reasons, one being that they have learned not to trust others, as their privacy and safety have been threatened by both wanted and unwanted visitors to their campsite. It was in that moment that I realized that Andrew finally trusted me.
As soon as he told me where he camps, I commented that I knew exactly where it was and that I would not tell anyone else the location of his campsite. I then thanked him for trusting me with this information. Andrew lingered in the doorway for a moment before saying, “Thank you for letting me trust you”, and he then returned to his seat at a nearby table. While I do not know what it is like to be homeless, I do know what it is like to have trusted someone only to have been betrayed, so, to have earned the trust of Andrew is a precious gift, one I do not take lightly at all. It takes a great deal of courage to trust again after being hurt, and I think that Andrew is among the bravest people I know for a myriad of reasons.
That’s another story. . .
Categories: That's Another Story