One of the interesting things about working closely with the homeless is how in synch they are with the real world, but how out of synch they can be with the rest of the community. A case in point, I was doing my shopping for the street at Walmart a couple of weeks back on February 26th, and I was surprised to discover that they already put the coats, hoodies and boots on clearance, but there was a wonderful selection of swim suits and resort wear. I went out on the street the next morning and it was 20 degrees with a nine degree wind chill for a high. Needless to say, the folks in the community were bundled in numerous layers, grateful for wool socks, gloves and hand warmers, and happy to have three warm meals during a cold February day. No one was anticipating the joys of a beach day in some distant future. They were absolutely anchored in the reality of a frigid, blustery day in Maine. I think there’s a lesson in there for all of us. No matter how challenging, or how much we wish it was otherwise, it’s crucially important to live our lives in the moment.
The other important event that has the potential to have a devastating impact on this community is the coronavirus. The fact of the matter is that the homeless don’t have the ability to wash their hands with regularity, much less have the luxury of social distancing. They sleep on mats on the floor four inches from the next mat on either side. There is no way, under those circumstances, to prevent a virus from spreading through the entire community like wildfire. When you add to that the fact that there are a number of co-existing illnesses in members of the community (heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) the potential for numerous fatalities is very real. You are also dealing with a population whose involuntary lifestyle leads to diminished immunity under the best of circumstances. At the homeless vigil late last year, a former homeless man recounted how when he was out on the street, he would get his first cold sometime in October, and it wouldn’t go away until April or May. Coronavirus could be a complete disaster for this community.
So if you pray, please pray that this community is spared the worst of this outbreak. And even if you don’t pray, if you could hold them in your thoughts, that would be very helpful as well. Along with nursing homes, homeless shelters are among the most vulnerable places for an outbreak. But I know that if we all pull together, we can navigate the storms that are to come, and come out of this challenging time bruised but not broken. After all, it is times like these that remind us that we are all one community, no exceptions, living life together in the moment, whatever difficulties that moment may bring.