With two weeks at the mayor's office under my belt, my level of comfort with the environment and the projects that I am responsible for has grown considerably. The reason for such a swift transition lies in the manner in which the full-time employees have accepted me into their workgroups (divisions of Human Services that target specific social issues such as housing for the homeless population, facilitating hiring of the homeless or the at-risk population, and improving the collaboration and data sharing between the dozens of non-profits who use their resources to assist the homeless population). In particular, the discussions between the policy makers who develop the policies and procedures for the homeless programs and the social workers who interact on a daily basis with our brothers and sisters who are struggling to provide for themselves further highlighted the dire relationship Baltimore has with its homeless population.
For one reason in particular, the most notable meeting I observed this past week took place at the Saint Vincent de Paul Beans and Bread Shelter on 402 S Bond Street. I walked into Beans & Bread just as they were opening their doors to the public and had to wait in line to sign in along with 25-30 other men and women. They could see from my dress shoes and button-up shirt that I wasn’t signing in for the morning meal and client engagement, but that didn’t stop them from asking my name, where I was from, and what brought me to Beans & Bread. The elderly man in line before me especially took interest in what I was doing over the summer and we ended up having a 20-minute conversation covering everything from why I grew up overseas to our expectations of the Raven’s upcoming season.
However, what I’ll remember most from that morning conversation is his story. He spent most of his adult life in Guinea but around six years ago he and his wife wanted a change. It was the appeal of the “American dream” that drew them to sell all their possessions in Conakry and to make the leap of faith. They arrived on workers’ visas where he started as a security guard and she became a waitress at the local Applebee’s. They were enjoying their new life, until his wife grew sick and was eventually diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer. She passed away just a few months after her late diagnosis, but in those few months, he had to spend all they had, in addition to borrowing from the bank, to pay for her medical bills in hopes of a miracle. That was three years ago. He’s been jumping from shelter to abandoned building to park bench ever since. Yet, as our conversation came to an end he shook my hand firmly and said with a smile in French, “Son, I will be praying for you and all that you will accomplish. You will be rewarded for your hard work. May God bless you.”. That conversation constantly reminds me that the applications I am processing are far more than just PDFs and keeps me falling into a robotic frame of mind. Individuals and families in desperate situations are on the other side of the computer screen.
Each day around 4:00 pm I pack up my desk and catch the circulator towards Charles Village to walk into a house with a full fridge, running water, and a comfortable bed. Where does Michelle go? Where does Deshawn go? Where do Pamela and her three children go?