Weekly Message from T. J.

I Got It

A friend of mine described himself once as someone who likes to be alone in a crowd. I remember where I was sitting when I heard that. And I remembered the crossword puzzles I’d worked on at tables for one in busy brunching bars. I remembered the books I’d read on benches in a park where so many clicked their Rollerblades across the brickwork and where bats cracked fly balls to the outfield for a weekend warrior softball player to nestle beneath and yell “I got it!” Yeah, being alone in a crowd was something I knew well.

So when I arrived last night into a crowd of neon green shirts emblazoned with #everybodycounts, all seeming like they knew one another, me seeming like I didn’t know anyone except the person who brought me, I had an old familiar feeling. I listened to the leader explain the importance of interviewing people experiencing houselessness. I began to understand how an evening walking the streets and speaking with people who live outdoors on his island might help the most vulnerable among us receive much needed aid and support. I got it.

The leader divided the obnoxiously green-clad crowd into geographic regions. And the plan was to cover every stretch of road, park, alley, parking lot, or other space in that region to complete the annual Point in Time count for the Office of Housing and Urban Development. The group my friend and I joined was made up of co-workers at a transitional housing service provider. So throughout the night this crowd made up of folks who all knew one another referred to us as “those two” or “you guys.” It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling.

Confidentiality and my own sense of the sacred prevent me from sharing here any personal details about the individuals I spoke with. But when we spoke with someone, we used one of two different colored sheets to record answers: white meant an individual and green meant family. All of the sheets my friend and I used were white. And the same had been true for our little group. But when we came upon a camp behind a Walgreens, I heard a little sound of delight rise up from a few of our friends bent over and chatting through the unzipped flap of a tent. They needed a green sheet.

Even after her interview, the woman who needed the green sheet told others in the group, and they were delighted, too. I didn’t ask about the delight. I had a feeling the box of completed interviews stacking steadily with solely white sheets told the tale. I got it. And as we distributed certificates for meals at fast food restaurants to people in the parks together, I told my friend who brought me how grateful I was to do this. But what I really meant was how grateful I was to be together in the crowd, even a crowd—especially a crowd—ablaze as we were with the brightest green I have ever seen.

Many blessings of togetherness to you all.

Rev. T. J.

3 Responses to “Weekly Message from T. J.

  1. Very sobering. And such a conundrum — feeling relief and happiness that someone is not alone on the streets, and the sadness that entire families are without homes. Makes one count one’s blessings, for sure.

  2. I feel very grateful to you for joining the people who did this work, T.J. Many blessings to all of you and to the people who are houseless.

  3. What a powerful way to describe the homeless population – as green or white sheets. The homeless along Pokai Bay Street are almost exclusively white sheets – terribly alone and imprisoned in their sickness, abandoning mattresses, clothes, and canned goods as they migrate up and down the beach.

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