Every night my husband has a routine. He checks the front and back doors of the house. He opens the door, closes it; then he locks it, unlocks it, locks it, puts on the back and front lights.
Last night he opened the front door ready to commence his nightly ritual, when he noticed there was someone sitting on our front porch. We live in an urban neighborhood. We were urban pioneers when we first moved in 22 years ago, with a crack house down the street where squatters had claimed the space, gangs hanging out on the corner, a drug house across the street, used needles strewn about. Through the period of the housing bubble, the neighborhood has improved a lot, not quite gentrified but working its way closer to that idea. Two of the buildings on our street have condo-ized. No more crack house, no more drugs, no more gangs or needles. So, seeing the woman, with her bags and heavy cream-colored bathrobe spread for her to sit on, on our front porch, was a surprise.
My husband asked her what she was doing. She responded that she hoped he didn’t mind but it was raining and she wanted to keep as dry as she could. It took a while for my husband to understand because her language was heavily accented. He thought Polish or Russian.
He went to find me. I was at the other end of the house. We went back to the front of the house and saw her slowly walking down our steps, one at a time, with her hood pulled low over her face. She walked back into the street.
On the porch she had left a couple of bags and her heavy bathrobe. My husband said that he was sure she would be back. The bathrobe looked too valuable for a homeless person to leave behind.
Would she return? Should we call 311 to see if we could find her shelter for the night?Shouldn’t we have a list of these kinds of resources at our finger tips? How stable was she? Who was she? Would letting her stay on our front porch invite others to find refuge there? In the end, we gathered a bag of food (apples, oranges, bananas) and left it on the porch next to her other possessions. When we went to bed, she still had not returned. In the morning all the bags were gone. My husband took a picture of the apple and orange she had put on the windowsill. There was a half-eaten apple in the garden (perhaps she didn’t have the teeth to eat it) and some banana peels near the front gate.
Somehow I feel a bit guilty about last night. It saddens me that we live in a society where we are frightened of strangers. It saddens me that I don’t know the community I live in well enough to be able to identify the woman who stayed out of the rain on our porch last night. The irony saddens me that at school today, I worked with a bunch of students to lend money to small entrepreneurs in Bolivia, Togo, and Peru. Far away from our front porch. Far away from the message on our window sill.
I work in a homeless shelter — here in Calgary we have enough beds — yet there are those who prefer the ‘freedom’ of sleeping rough. Mental health issues, addictions — so many things create havoc in people’s lives — and all we can do is offere them a safe place to stay, food, shelter — and someone to listen, to acknowledge their presence.
You did a heartfelt thing. You acknowledged her presence. You saw her and offered sustanance.
Sometimes, it is all we can do — to let someone know — I see you. I hear you. We are connected.
Found you on She Writes. This is a poignant post. Thanks. I suspect you a wonderful teacher. Your students are lucky to have you. (not to mention lucky to be in a school that offers 8th grade Humanities!)
Some of your blogs are educational. Some are humorous. Some bizarre. And every now and then one moves me to awe and sometimes tears. This was one of the latter. Your writing style is as strong as your and Jake’s open heart.