Talking With The Homeless on a Friday Night

Friday night I went to the volunteer event where we socialize with the homeless (or newly transitioned into housing) for some Friday night fun. It was a bit different this time - I was really tired and nobody really started off a game right away-we just sat and chatted. Here are some of the people I chatted with:
  1. Fred - Fred knows everyone and everyone knows Fred. He does not take shit from anyone and tells the most hilarious stories (with appropriate and frequent use of the word: fuck). Fred told me he grew up in the church and that he can speak fluent French, though when he told a story about a time when he needed to help translate and he surprised everyone with his fluency, his French sounded a lot like when Phoebe was trying to teach Joey how to speak it in that one Friends episode - or for those of you not up on Friends episodes--it sounded a lot like an 18-month old speaking any language. I'm not a French major and maybe it was just that he was talking fast and his words were a *teeny* bit slurred, but it just didn't sound ...right.

    Fred also told me that he has two masters degrees, has been around the world, and recently has flown from the east coast to California, then rented a car and drove up to Oregon. To be clear---Fred is homeless. He looks homeless. He carries a bulging army duffel bag and a large rolled blanket and a bag of miscellaneous (out of which he pulled a pair of clean boxers** and gave them to a friend of his who didn't have any clean boxers-nice!). When was the last time you flew with a homeless man? Point being....I'm not sure if Fred is to be believed, though I am a very cynical person lately (I hate it).

    Regardless---Fred tells a GREAT story. We were laughing away with him for the first hour.

  2. Another volunteer worked with me at the coffee bar. He told he lost his job a few months ago and he can't stand just doing nothing, so when he is not looking for work, interviewing, or otherwise working on finding a job, he volunteers. Not just once a 4X a week. And at least twice on weekends. People like that amaze me. I think if I was jobless, I would spend at least 2 days a week reading blogs, watching movies, doing puzzles, chatting all day online, perfecting my Scrabble moves on Facebook....those kinds of things. Yes, I would volunteer - but every day? AND on weekends? He is a great person!

  3. This one short and stout homeless lady believed she was the one running the show. She brought in candy and talked to the volunteer leader at least six times about how she brought them and she has specific guidelines that she wants the volunteers to follow in passing them out. She insisted that the 4 kinds of candy be mixed in a large bowl - one with a large rim so you don't have to wait for someone to dig through the bowl to find the kind you wanted. She didn't want the see-through bowl because she felt that would just make people want to look for kinds she doesn't have. She wanted the red bowl, large rim. She didn't want the volunteer with the dark hair to pass them out because she felt that this particular volunteer didn't know how to do it. There was no reasoning why. She also said at least 22 times: everyone only gets one. No exceptions. And then she counted everyone who was at the event and figured that yes, everyone must only get one because there might not be enough for two for everyone.And then after they were all passed out (with her following behind the volunteer with the bowl), there were a LOT left and she wanted them put back into the original bags, but we had already thrown those away and she was quite irritated with us but accepted our large ziplock baggie.

    She snapped at one of the volunteers passing out sandwiches because they started passing out in the wrong side of the room, aka not her side. She came to the coffee bar later and told me that I had to put what remained of the pomegranate tea in a shelf and give no more out, because it was too good to offer to the same crowd all night and it made more sense that they only have a few available each night. She was not my favorite person. Nobody tells me when to put the good tea away.

  4. Another volunteer was a different kind of girl. She said that she just moved to the area a few weeks ago, which of course leads you to answer, what brought you to this area? Her answer: god told me to. He didn't tell me why or what I was to do. He just said I need to go to Oregon. This would have made just as much sense to me as if Fred told me this....I am quite cynical of people who act on voices. (*this is not meant to spark any kind of religious debate)

    So this girl left her family and friends, left all of her material goods, quit her job and bought a plane ticket the next week (after she heard from god). Then she hopped on that plane with one suitcase and a backpack of goods. That's it. She said she landed in Portland and it was rainy and miserable and she said to god, I hope you know what you're doing, cause I miss my sunny Florida already! She had no place to live, no job, no contacts. She just gave up her life...and moved. And then she was talking about how she is having her sister send her computer and some other things and I thought-that was actually fairly selfish, to just up and leave and then rely on the people back home to help you clean up. The least she could have done was take a few weeks and plan a bit....I guess she felt that god wanted her to leave immediately.

  5. And then there was a guy who looked EXACTLY like my last boyfriend, Tad. EXACTLY. His mannerisms, the way he walked, his smile, his voice even, the way he said words that not all of society uses. It was uncanny. Except that this was a very dark-skinned black man and Tad is most definitely a white-white man. Other than that-they are twins!!!

  6. There's one man who I saw last time as well, Saul. We played games together last time, though he will insist he was NOT playing. He sat at the table next to our game table and shouted out the answers but did NOT want to play. So when I saw him this weekend, I said-remember me? We played games together last time? And he looked at me with his tired old man face and said: I remember you, but I don't play games, so I'm certain that's not why you remember me. Ha - I like Saul. He did actually give me a smile later on in that night so I felt I had won a victory.
Good times on a Friday night. Though I didn't play any games, it was a really great night and I felt like I gave back to the community. I really enjoy the goal of this particular program - just socializing as a means to help society. It makes a lot of sense---how many people actually look a homeless person in the eye during the day? How many ever offer to just have a ten-minute conversation? I didn't in the past. But just making eye contact with another human being fulfills an inner human need of being recognized for being alive. Sometimes it's the little things that really make a let's just try a little harder, shall we?

**We might not think about it, but donating boxers and panties is one of the greatest things you can donate to the homeless. It's something that is hard for them to get and is such a nice thing to have! Next time you give---think underwear!


  1. Brian Miller said...:

    that is way cool. i love hanging out with the homeless...i volunteer at a kitchen once a week...

  1. lo said...:

    This sounds like fun! I wonder if we have a program like that around here...

  1. Heather said...:

    First I would like to give congrats for your new tabs and how about one with "Letters from Korea". I also wanted to thank you for giving me that tip about the Stop button, I have used it many times already and it is FABULOUS!

    I guess I have been sheltered most of my life cause I have only meet a handful of homeless folks. They mostly live in the city and I have always lived in the country.

    It is so wonderful the things you do!

  1. Kaylen said...:

    Thanks Heather! I'm going to add the new page for my Korea posts right now! :)

  1. Brandy said...:

    wow - sounds really interesting. and now i want candy. but more than 1 piece

  1. Pam said...:

    Sounds like an interesting night with a colorful bunch of characters. I had never thought about boxers or panties. That is a good idea.

  1. One thing I've never considered is underwear for donations! I'll be on the lookout for deals now!

  1. Julie said...:

    Me too, I've never thought of undies or boxers, good plan. We don't have to many homeless in our area but we do have needy and I bet that would work the same for them too. Socks would be next, no one can afford them regularly so how could they.
    I'm so proud of you and your volunteering. A great way to give back.
    Thank you so much for sharing. Off to read more. Take care and have a great and blessed evening.

  1. Such a great sketch of the people you met. Let me know if you'd like to write a guest post on our blog about your volunteer experiences. We'd love to have your voice there and to hear more about your experiences serving the homeless.


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