I almost never actually interact with the homeless. That time I had to pick up kids and drive them to emergency shelters was an exception. I make blankets and I cook and I do other things, but I rarely actually talk with them. Or even see them.
Mostly this is a factor of April. I’m a stay-at-home mom and toddlers and homeless people usually don’t mix. Especially not around Somerville, which has a non-trivial drug problem. And I don’t have tons of time to spend getting to know the “clients”, learning the politics and tricks of dealing with such a varied population.
And, as Hal, one of my friends at the local shelter, said, “Neve, you’re a bit… much.”
But I got a call last night asking for my help — not with money or food or anything, but to actually serve food. The flu wiped out the staff altogether and they had huge gaps in their coverage. So I dropped April off at Vicki’s for a few hours, donned an apron, and served pasta and bean soup with bread and salad to the homeless for lunch today. Cupcakes for dessert. I’ve done this a handful of times before and I really have to admit, I didn’t like it. There’s a reason I only lasted one afternoon as a waitress at A.C. Peterson’s.
Today was no exception. I didn’t like it. But I noticed something today.
Took me a while to get over my general crankiness to notice it, but finally it dawned on me, after the tenth guy younger than me came through the line, that we had a different demographic than I was used to. The guy who made me sort of sit up was pointing at the soup and said “rope” a couple of times. I frowned and gave him some soup — it was good soup, I made it myself, cannelini beans and hot sausage make it really good — and then he pointed at the bread and said “money.”
“Oh, aphasia,” I blinked. I know about aphasia from Doonesbury and that episode of House with the bipolar guy. He was about 25, I’d guess, with a patch of white hair on the side of his head that made him look older. I guessed, but didn’t ask, that he had a head trauma.
He nodded and we managed to figure out that he wanted tea, not coffee with his dinner and I sort of startled myself out of a funk and started noticing the unusual folks coming through the lines. Youngish guys without hands or legs. Several with stammering or halting speech. A couple that just looked really stoned, even though it was the early shift.
I asked Hal about it. He told me that apparently the veteran’s system just got massive cuts last fall and a lot of these guys were in various hospitals until then. Then the gov’t kicked ’em out. Somehow I totally missed this in the news — apparently it was right before the Halloween attacks and the reporting got lost in that tidal wave. Still, there were a lot of them.
Hal said that apparently there’s a guy — The Colonel, they call him — who is organizing the vets and he’s doing it here in Boston. There’s been a slow but significant increase in homeless and marginal vets — mostly with disabilities — showing up around the city. Which, of course, has put even more of a strain on the soup kitchens. But it explains why they didn’t need to hit me up for cash again this week — the local VFW has donated some serious cash and some food, too.
I don’t know how I missed all of this. I guess I’ve been wrapped up in April and Paul. But it’s really astounding that these men (and women, there were two women, but they wouldn’t talk to anyone but each other) have sacrificed for our country and then gotten tossed out on their ears. If they have ears. I know that’s trite, but it’s still depressing.