The Neighbors, the Homeless and the Jailbirds

Before heading to the bread distribution on Friday, we took a detour to the next street over to check on one of our elderly neighbors.  We thought she might like to join us, not only to pick up food, but also for an opportunity to get out of the house.

It’s not that she isn’t able to get out, it’s just that she doesn’t have any regular source of transportation.  We often see her walking along the road on the way to one of our few local shops (or even along the shoulder of the freeway, on the way into town), picking up discarded cans and bottles along the way.  Many residents of this area take advantage of litter to make a few bucks at the recycling centers.

Our neighbor lady said she was busy, so we offered to pick up some bread for her.  We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to share, as we often receive food items that we are unable to use.  We save excess canned goods to give to the homeless or hungry who come to the door of the parsonage asking for food.  When it comes to perishable items, however, it’s either eat it right away, freeze it or find someone who wants to share.

Arriving at the bread distribution, you stand on a short, fast-moving line, at the end of which a church volunteer hands you a tied-up plastic bag or two, filled with food.  Then you amble over to the bread tables and take what you need from the large stock of expired bread products.  Most of it consists of long loaves of French or Italian bread, with some half-loaves of garlic bread, round sourdough loaves and bags of dinner rolls.  Sometimes, there will be a few cakes that have been around too long for the stores to sell them.

The grab bags (which I have so named both for the mystery of their contents and the conduct of some of those standing in line) could contain almost anything.  Three outdated yogurt cups, a tiny sausage-and-cheese for one, a jar of cocktail onions and a package of stale donuts, for example.  Or perhaps an individual size squeeze tube of liverwurst, a small carton of liquid eggs, a package of bleu cheese crumbles and two cans of soda.  Whatever the supermarkets couldn’t sell and want to get rid of for a write-off.  The experience of tearing into one of those bags is something like Forrest Gump’s chocolates.  You just never know what you’ll get.

What we do know is that we will rarely use anything that comes in those grab bags.  We always try to give them away immediately.  This time, we drove directly to our neighbor’s house and gave her our bags along with some of our bread haul.

At the moment, our neighbor is living with an adult daughter who has lived a hard life of drugs, jail and mental illness.  And then there is Homeless Guy #3, who sleeps under a tree in a corner of her back yard.  I’m pretty sure he’s related to her in some distant way.  I hear he’s not allowed in the house due to threats and actual violence that has occurred in the past.  Our neighbor would like to get Homeless Guy #3 to leave, but the sheriffs say that since he’s been there for a while, she would have to file an order of eviction.  This would entail things that she is unwilling or unable to do, things like filling out confusing paperwork, going to court and paying fees.  Some days she’ll walk over here and hand us a few crumpled dollar bills, asking to use our washer to do a load of laundry.  I so badly want to tell her “Look!  The paperwork is right here online!  You’re on a fixed income and are eligible for a fee waiver!  I can even take the forms to the courthouse for you!”  But I somehow feel as if I shouldn’t get involved with the situation.  You want to help, but at the same time you know that it’s none of your business.  And then there is the matter of Homeless Guy #3.  Do I really want to be complicit in separating him from his rough arboreal bed?  It can be very hard to know what to do.

As for Homeless Guy #1 and Homeless Guy #2, they’re both in jail.  #2 is still awaiting his hearing date, at which time he plans to plead not guilty to violation of probation charges.  The public defender is hopeful.  I, however, have my doubts.  The guy was temporarily living with a friend who happened to have some old ammunition in a drawer that he had forgotten about.  I’m sure nothing would have happened had not #2 been picked up for public intoxication, leading his probation officer to search his living quarters.  The very presence of that ammo was a violation of the terms of Homeless Guy #2’s probation, even though he didn’t even know it was there.  It’s a strict liability type of situation, so I think he may have a hard time of it in court, despite the PD’s optimism.  With a little luck, however, he’ll serve a short sentence and get another chance at probation.

Unfortunately, things look much more bleak for Homeless Guy #1, the one who lived in the tent with his sleeping bag and Coleman stove.  Some very serious felony charges have been leveled against him, including forcible rape.  I have to admit that I was shocked to learn about this.  To be honest, #1 is not one of my favorite people, primarily because he is a whiny pest and a liar.  I have to remind myself not to judge, however.  Long-term homelessness does nasty things to people.  But forcible rape?  (Shudder)  If he did this horrible thing he is charged with, then he needs to spend the rest of his life in prison.  Just my opinion, folks.  I don’t know the woman who has accused him, but I hear that both he and she have some serious mental problems.  I have to wonder whether the public defender will go for an insanity defense.  Or will Homeless Guy #1 insist on pleading not guilty and take his chances with a jury?

Either way, it blows my mind to think that we have been feeding this guy regularly, allowing him to use our bathroom and laundry facilities, visiting him in jail, ministering to his spiritual needs, buying him new shoes, paying him to water the church grounds (on the few occasions that he actually got around to it), and listening to his whoppers about why he is desperate for a dollar.

#1, how could you???  (Uncle G hangs head in shame.)



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