Kamis, 17 Oktober 2013

The Things We Do Not See

I just got home from my early morning adventure--out with a crew of volunteers, the mayor, a town council member and a journalist to find people who are living outside. We are participating in the Point in Time count of the homeless, and the 100K Homes grassroots initiative.

Our first stop was a known campsite in town. Spencer and I led the way, through the woods, deep into an area that was thick with brush but with clear paths. We wandered for a bit, then found a bamboo structure in the shape of a doorway, and sitting areas with water and food items. As we looked a bit further, we found a tent with one occupant, sequestered within the undergrowth. The occupant awoke to our friendly calls, but was tired and didn't want to do the interview. He said he was tired and had a headache. He told us we could come back tomorrow, so we will return.

Our second site was a single tent not far from the UNC campus, in a no-man's-land owned by DOT. The occupant was awake, and welcomed us. He had a mountain bike outside his tent. He told us he's been living outside for about six weeks, and has had periods of homelessness for the past few years. He was clean, polite, engaging, and I couldn't help but wonder what his story was. He invited us to come back anytime, and named several outreach workers that he trusted.

Next, we visited several sites with tents but no occupants. Only one was visible from the road. Each had evidence of occupancy, but no one in the site.

What was remarkable for me was realizing that these are areas that I drive by frequently, and I had no idea that people might be living there. The camps varied -- some were clearly made homey, with decorative touches and attention to comfort and safety (steps carved into the bank of a small stream that you had to cross, for instance.) Others were littered with trash that included junk food wrappers and beer bottles and cans. Clothes were carefully hung in some, and in others, ground into the dirt.

Who is it that we do not see? What stories do they have to tell? If we find them, what will they tell us?

Tomorrow we'll go out again. We'll start out early looking in the parking lot of grocery stores to see if we can find people who live in their cars.

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