Saturday, December 25, 2010


As I was walking home one night, after making my trek downtown, I saw a man shuffling along Clark Street several steps ahead of me. He seemed to be fairly well bundled up but there was something in the stoop of his shoulders that made me wonder...

I stepped up my pace and caught up with him in time to see that he indeed had a cup with a few coins in his hand. "Excuse me," I said. "Are you hungry?" He looked at me with a quiet gaze. "Yes, ma'am. Well. I'm okay. But maybe a little hungry." I asked, "How long's it been since you've eaten?" and, after a reflective sigh, was told, "I'm not sure. Two days maybe?" We happened to be near a sandwich shop. "C'mon," I said. "Let's get you something to eat." As it so happened, someone had taken me to lunch that day and I decided to pay their kindness forward.

After the gentleman received his food - again, I was astounded, by the way; contrary to the stigma of being greedy that so many homeless people are given, this guy practically had to be arm-wrestled into accepting my offer of a bag of chips, a cookie, and a beverage along with his sandwich! - we sat down and chatted.

This is Hank. He's worked his whole life until last spring when the company he worked for ran out of projects. Even though he himself has no home, once or twice each week, he volunteers at a neighborhood soup kitchen. Hank occasionally goes to homeless shelters for a night of sleep but not often. He says he feels that his few belongings are safer with him while he stays on the streets at night. I look at his cracked, raw hands and ask what he does to survive the weather. "That's just the thing," he answers. "I could ride the train a while but I don't dare fall asleep. If I do and the conductor doesn't come yell at me, another homeless person will find me, cut my pockets and take my things. You gotta keep your stuff close to you. So you walk all night and tell yourself, 'keep moving, keep moving,' and then, during the day, you try to find an out of the way place to sleep an hour or two."

Jackie and Wayne

Okay. Jackie and Wayne - they're catfish in the aquarium of life. They're survivors, not timid. They're quick-witted, talk a mile a minute (I can relate), and they were ecstatic when they saw I had packets of instant coffee in the pink bags. Jackie got a double bonus when she received a gorgeous, black coat from Casual Corner - this photo was taken while she was jumping up and down, waving and saying, "Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU whoever you are - this coat is gorgeous!"

The Pink Bag

Click HERE to read about the pink bags....... if you know anything about me, you won't be surprised to know that, of course, there's a specific reason or two for these, particular bags!

Shawn and John

I met these two fellows when they saw me giving socks out to some of the other folks on the street. The taller one, John, stood quietly waiting while everyone was getting their things. At first, I though perhaps he was a passer by who wanted to talk to me about making a contribution (this happens on occasion). I might have blinked for a second when he quietly asked if he could have a pair of socks. "Sure! One pair or two?" I asked. A warm grin broke across his face and, as I handed over two pair of socks, he called to his friend standing off in the distance, "Hey Shawn! Get over here! I told you it's okay! See? We can have some, too! She's got socks!"

Shawn paused then, seeming to make a decision in his own mind, came over and thanked me for the socks I placed in his outstretched hand. As usual, I asked them for their stories. They're both former employees in the food industry. John was a Hurricane Katrina victim who'd been relocated to Illinois for temporary housing and then abandoned when the housing funds ran out. Shawn moved here from Boston and lost his job when his company down-sized. Once his unemployment benefits ran out, he lost his apartment.


Ronnie is one of the more charismatic guys on the street. Quick to smile, friendly and helpful, he's usually running around making sure everyone's got what they need when I come around with my pink bags. He'll stop what he's doing and pray for anyone, too. I get the impression that he's kind of the surrogate big brother to a lot of the other folks. I don't know much of his own story yet but he's a father of two kids and his brother, Tyrone, is also on the streets.

You know, Ronnie is the first person I ever met who asked me for deodorant and toothpaste when I asked him what I could bring that would help. I didn't have any with me when he asked but I promised him I'd be back with the requested items. You should have seen the way his eyes lit up when I showed up the following weekend with his requested items AND a toothbrush!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


This is Alex. He's just 18 years old, a recent high school graduate. The sign he's holding says

Thank you SO MUCH!

Alex's mom is married to an alcoholic. There was a showdown at home last August and his stepfather said, "either the kid goes or I go." As it so often happens in an abusive home, out of fear, Alex's mom tearfully told him, "I'm sorry," and he found himself on the streets. In early September, he came to the city from a suburban town hoping to meet up with other kids and maybe find some work to do. Four months later, he's still on the street.

Alex tells me that he tries to keep a low profile so that he won't get roughed up by anyone. I took him into Dunkin' Donuts today for some food. He didn't want to take advantage of me so I had to play the mom card and order him to actually accept a full combo meal and not just a sandwich. He smiled shyly and asked if he could have a hot chocolate, too. My heart shattered. And yes, he got his hot chocolate.

I'm going to meet up with Alex on Christmas day and hopefully get him linked up with some people who can get him on the right track. He's a sweet kid with a whole future ahead of him. I might not be able to do much but I'll do what I can to help.


Mo is an absolute sweetheart. She's bubbly, chatty, well-spoken - and she was freezing when I asked to take her photo. My apologies. I don't think you can see much more than her nose in this photo but she is just a joy to spend time with!

Mo's story: She was married to a physically abusive man and had a solid job for seven years with the US Postal Department. Things became bad enough at home that she escaped to a domestic violence shelter. She called her employer and asked for a leave of absence but was refused. Fearing for her safety, she called in to work day after day and was fired for nonattendance. After a month in the domestic violence house, she was released and sent on her way with no job and no family to fall back on for help. As Mo says, in order to qualify for so many of the programs that could help her, she would either have to be a drug or alcohol addict or mentally unstable. She is neither of these things and so she gets no help.

Recently, she was placed into a government housing project. When I asked her if she was okay there, her reply was, "Look, E. I've got a roof over my head and walls to mostly block the wind (her window is cracked so ice gets inside). Yeah, the heater went out but I'm out of the wind and that'll work for a start." Today, I brought Mo a blanket and a pillow because she had neither when she moved in. She has no stove but she has a small microwave. A woman offered to give dishes to help set up her new home and, excited to have a few new things, Mo happily went with the woman to gather some plates, silverware, etc. When she arrived at the woman's condo in River North, she was given plastic storage containers from restaurant doggie bags and a few used plastic forks. Mo said, "E, I didn't know what to do! I didn't want to appear ungrateful but I just wanted to cry. I mean, I know I need stuff and I should just be thankful for anything anyone's willing to give me but in that moment, I felt less than human. I just wanted to cry."

And I wanted to cry for her. I don't understand why someone would think it's okay to give their throwaway containers to someone and expect them to act like they'd been given a set of Lenox china.


Sheena is an elderly gal I met on Thanksgiving night who had been kicked out of her senior living apartment a week earlier - everything she owned was bundled into plastic bags and attached to a rolling cart. She'd never been homeless before and she was so out of it that she wasn't quite sure what day it was. She was dirty, freezing cold, and very lonely. She couldn't move very well so, at her request, I dug into her bags and found a blanket to cover her with. As I sat with her, a young woman walked up, asked me if Sheena was hungry and graciously offered the large portion of left-overs she had planned to take home that night.

I look for Sheena often but haven't seen her since Thanksgiving night. I hope and pray that she's found a place to keep warm.


I met Miller on Thanksgiving night. He was walking along State Street when I saw him and asked him if he's keeping warm. "Trying to," he said with a half smile. That's the usual answer. I asked him if he could use some fresh socks. There had been a terrible rainstorm the night before and, with temperatures in the high twenties, the chilling wet was beginning to freeze. "Please. Anything. Yes, please," came the reply.

As I began unpacking my bag to give him the socks and some food, Miller told me his story. He had come to Chicago from Alabama to take care of his sick mother over the summer. She passed away in September and, once she was gone, her apartment was no longer available for Miller to stay in. He'd been on the streets for two months when I met him. He really just wants to get back to Alabama but finding a ticket home isn't going to be easy. Right now, he walks during the night, tries to stay warm, tries to stay out of the way of the police, and he eats every two or three days.