Homeless Behind Bars

So our homeless friend has landed in jail.  I knew it was just a matter of time, but this still saddens me.

In some respects I suppose he’s better off in custody.  It’s been raining all week; at least there he’ll stay dry and be fed regularly.  Three hots and a cot.

I’m sure he’s not happy about how things have turned out.  After all, he enjoys his freedom and doesn’t like to follow rules.  This is one of the reasons that he continues to refuse our counsel to take advantage of the services of the local homeless shelter.

I hear they got him for violation of probation.  It’s got to be tough for a guy who lives in a tent and has no money to get several miles up the freeway and into town to show up for regular appointments with his probation officer.  Then again, I’ve seen him on a bicycle, so perhaps it’s not a transportation issue.  He may just be tired of having to report every week.  It’s got to get old after a while, particularly for someone who isn’t into rules.  At some point, perhaps you just say “screw it” and accept whatever consequences attach.

Our friend constantly shows up at the parsonage asking for food, money or the key to the church rest room.  He tells us all kinds of stories and lies, when we know full well that what he needs money for is cigarettes and beer.

We’ve gone around and around in circles with this guy.  For a while, we allowed him to stay overnight in the church rest room until an unfortunate series of events prevented us from extending this courtesy any longer.  First, a most unpleasant confrontation ensued when churchgoers were unable to gain access to the rest room one Sunday morning because he was hunkered down in there.  Then we discovered that allowing him to use the rest room as a temporary overnight shelter violated the church’s insurance policy.  We told him he couldn’t stay in the rest room anymore, but we still allowed him in to use the facilities.  Finally, Pastor Mom was restocking supplies in the rest room one day when she discovered that our friend had left his sleeping bag and a long knife under the sink.  We were lucky that a little kid attending church with his parents hadn’t found it first.  Pastor Mom told him that he had violated our trust and was not welcome here anymore.  He asked us where he was supposed to go to pee and she explained that it’s not our problem.

But my mother-in-law has a soft heart.  Eventually, she relented and again allowed him to use the church rest room to relieve himself.

Since then, our friend has been over here quite often.  If it’s in the morning, we invite him in for coffee and toast.  If it’s in the evening, we feed him dinner.

For the last few weeks, we’ve had volunteers here performing renovation work on the church social hall nearly every day.  Pastor Mom has gone to a lot of effort and expense to cook and serve them lunch.  One day, our friend appeared just when the workers were eating.  He said he was hungry, so we gave him a hot dog in a bun, a package of crackers and a cold bottle of water.  His reaction?  “Well, it’s better than nothing.”

Hopefully, the food is better in jail.  Ingratitude has a nasty way of complicating one’s innate charitable urges.  You want to do the right thing but, holy mackerel, it’s tough sometimes.

Earlier this week, Pastor Mom was away visiting a friend for a few days.  Our homeless guy came by to use the rest room and we gave him the key to unlock it.  We reminded him to lock it back up when he was done.  Apparently, he didn’t, as we found his bicycle on the property next morning.  I went to unlock the rest room so that the arriving workers could use it.  It was locked from the inside.  Our friend shouted through the door that he was in the middle of “changing.”  I suppose he was referring to his clothes, not his behavior.

I have no way of proving it, but I’m sure he deliberately left the rest room unlocked after he used it so that he could stay there all night.  I suppose it’s preferable to a wet tent.

That evening, our friend came by to apologize, stating that he was just in there “to wash up and shave.”  I used a harsh tone with him, explaining that he was given permission to use the rest room to pee only.

I told Pastor Mom that I knew this would happen once she relented and allowed him to start using the church rest room again.

“What would God do?” she asked.

“Invite him in and allow him to sleep on the couch,” was my answer.

Pastor Mom responded that she always does the best she knows how to do at the time.  And I agree. All we can do is the best we can come up with at any given moment.

I’m sorry that our homeless friend is in jail.  Checking the sheriff’s website, I see that he is being held without bail.  Visitors are allowed for one hour, twice per week.  The next visiting hour is on Sunday, and I suggested to my wife that we go see him.  After all, the worst thing about being in jail is feeling alone and forgotten.

My wife doesn’t understand why I want to visit “when I was so mean to him the other night.”  I attempted, not very successfully, to explain that there is a difference between being firm and being mean.  If I had called the cops on him, that would have been mean.

Turns out that wasn’t necessary.  I guess his probation officer had the sheriffs pick up our friend when he failed to show.

Even though this is his second probation violation, I’ll be surprised if he does as much as thirty days behind bars.  Then he’ll be out and back sleeping in his tent and begging us to use the rest room so he doesn’t have to risk arrest for peeing in public.  Until the next time he violates probation and makes another pass through those revolving jail doors.

And so it goes, on and on.  Is there any hope for breaking the vicious cycle that is homelessness?

 

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3 thoughts on “Homeless Behind Bars

  1. Shame. Our “civilized” world just isn’t for some; freedom has different connotations for different people. Sorry to read about your friend, and I wish him the best.

  2. Thanks so much, Shannon! He’s scheduled to be released tomorrow. I know it’s just a matter of time until he’s back in. Situations like this one feel so hopeless. You want to help, but what can you do that would be truly effective?

  3. Uncle G, this really does capture with sensitivity the fact that we just do not have a system in place that works to actually help the mentally ill and/or homeless. I know I don’t have the answer. I wish someone did.

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