Heartbreak Hotel

As of last weekend, she was still out there. I'm talking about Dawn, the homeless young--very young --woman who was sitting on the sidewalk with her dog.

This time she had her head down; hidden, the way that some homeless persons greet the streets some days. Sometimes we all need some alone time, some damn privacy, a place to hide for awhile, sheltered from life's stormy weather. And just how do you get that if your "home" is a public street? You put your head down.

I did not bother her, or try to engage her in a conversation this time. I put a couple dollars into the paper coffee cup near her feet. I did this with reverence, as one might place an offering in a church collection tray. The dog, Tabitha, watched warily from under the jumble of blankets and clothing. I wondered if Dawn had gotten her sleeping bag and back pack yet. I descended into the subway station, as always holding back tears--of anger as much as sadness. Anger--why? Because I feel so powerless? Because my dollar or my loose change is only a drop in the vast desert of human misery? Or is it because I've been there, homeless-- and I haven't forgotten what it felt like.

Then today, there was another one. This one sitting on subway stairs at 42nd Street. So soft spoken I hardly heard what she said, but I didn't need to. Sitting there in the cold, alone, she was asking for help; the only help that seems to matter. The universal language: money. I gave her a dollar. Asked her how she got out there. She said her father threw her out. She said she was trying to get some money to feed her baby. I told her about the UHO people. They are homeless and formerly homeless who have organized, set up tables in various parts of the city, with huge tip jars. There they stand all day, in all kinds of weather, doing outreach, accepting donations for the homeless, dispensing information about services and shelters. I told the young woman to go to one of these people and tell them her situation. If anyone could help, I thought, they could.

Later, when I returned to this subway station, she was gone. To a better place, I can only hope.

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