Today we drove back to Rollins, but there was still application to be done in our own community. So, after lunch we all drove to the Coalition for the Homeless downtown to take a tour and make jewelry with some of the people staying there. After we toured the facility, we set up all the supplies, and the women and children filed in. I worked with a number of people today. A man came in the room to scope out what was going on, and he liked what he saw. He approached me, and introduced himself as “G.” He went on to ask for a chain to put a key on. I, of course, obliged, cutting the chain and attaching the clips. When I asked for his key, he placed in my hands a small, antique piece of metal that he had been wearing around his neck using another worn out necklace. I was surprised at its size and look. He told me that his father had given him this key when he was a boy, and that he had worn it around his neck ever since. At that moment, I really saw him for the first time: a man yearning for respect and warmth, yearning for the closeness of a father. I yearn for the same things; the difference is that I am blessed enough to receive these things without even asking. I am thankful to this man for reminding me how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who love and respect me.
G left, but soon after a little boy named Marquan came strolling over to me. He held in his hands two yellow rubber duckies. I introduced myself to him, and his dimples showed as I pronounced his name wrong three times before I finally got it right. Marquan is four years old. He is not in public school, but attends the preschool provided by the Coalition. He laughed a lot as I talked to him about his likes and dislikes, and I asked him if he wanted to make a necklace. He immediately said yes and picked out a chain and some beads to put on it. As I put together his necklace, he watched my hands intently and listened to every word I spoke to him as if I were the most important person in the world. I finished his necklace, and we sat on the floor playing with the bath toys he had brought with him (probably the only ones he owns). Looking into his big brown eyes, I was struck by the fact that this beautiful young boy had no refridgerator to post his pictures on, no room of his own, and no place to call home.
I have worked with kids like Marquan for over 10 years, but I have found that, as I was bombarded with this sort of injustice week after week, I had developed a emotional defense toward it. My soul refused to see it after a while, and I forgot. I forgot how I felt the first time I witnessed a neglected and homeless child. Marquan and his siblings reminded me of the hurt that I have buried deep down for so long. Needless to say, I was in pain as I felt those feelings fresh once more like a reopened wound. My heart is heavy tonight as I type these words, heavy for Marquan and every child in a similar situation. Homelessness is horrendous and must be eradicated. It makes me angry and willing to do whatever it takes to fix the system. I can at least have intelligent and sophisticated discussions about the issue as it affects adults all across the United States. On the other hand, I almost cannot talk about the reality of homeless children living less than 2 miles from where I lay in my bed, in a warm house, surrounded by parents who have the time and energy to provide me with my every physical and emotional need.
When we were about to leave, Marquan’s brother, Marqui, came to pick him up. Unlike the hope that shown in Marquan’s eyes, his brother’s eyes were sad. Marqui introduced himself and told md he was attending Howard Middle School. He smiled softly when I joked with him, but the sadness remained in his eyes. I realized that as this boy is making his way through Middle School, he also has been forced to find a way to deal with the reality that he has no home. He has been through more hardship than I have been through in my entire life, but he continues to stay strong and resolute for his younger brothers. There’s not much more to say about this, except that Marquan and his brothers deserve better and that they are a living breathing portrayal of the effects of homelessness on children and what we must commit to ending once and for all.