Homeless in Harrisonburg

IMG_2912While going to work on Friday morning, I found a woman sitting on the concrete steps outside of the downtown library.  Nearby were several plastic bags, one containing various packaged foods, the other looked to be a blanket.  As we waited to be let into the building, the two of us struck up a conversation.  She was hoping to be able to use the publicly available computers inside.  Somewhat surprisingly, she identified herself as homeless almost immediately, mentioning that she often slept outside in a location several blocks north of where we were sitting.

This woman told me a story of her recent adventures, of a man who was kind enough to volunteer to let her stay with him for several days.  During that time, he drove her to the grocery store to pick a few things.  However, when she returned to where he had parked his car, it was gone and several of her bags sat nearby.

She went on to tell me that she had left a few of her possessions at this fellow’s house, including a computer, but he wouldn’t answer the phone when she called.  When she tried from another number, he did pick up, but immediately hung up when he discovered that she was on the other end.

The woman explained that she had been without work for quite a while and lacked both the skills and education necessary to compete in the workforce.  When I asked about her education, she told me that she was quite smart but she never graduated high school.  In response, I asked if she could get a GED, but she said she didn’t have enough money to do so.

She spoke of her appreciation for the local soup-kitchens and I added that during high school and after college I very much enjoyed the opportunity to volunteer at two of them, but haven’t done so for several years.

As our conversation continued, she mentioned that she had a child, but I thought I shouldn’t pry too terribly much, so I didn’t discover the age of the child and whether s/he lives with her, the father, or some other arrangement.  What I did find rather strange though, especially given her rather dire circumstances, was that she mentioned she looked forward to getting another tattoo…assuming she could ever afford it.

It was at this time I got a call from my contact and so I bid her farewell and walked into the library.  Nevertheless, as I began my work, I couldn’t help wondering more about this woman’s situation. I hoped that she would be able to get back her missing computer, for it was likely the most valuable item she owned and it could serve as a valuable tool to improve her present condition. When I left the library several hours later, she was no where to be found.

Although it may be easy to not give this woman a second thought, marginalizing her by thinking that her problems must be her own fault, a symptom of some mental condition, or simply write her off as lazy, doing so doesn’t really do her story much justice.  Of course, none of us would ever relish finding ourselves in this homeless woman’s position…at the same time, I wonder how many unfortunate events would be necessary to place each of us in her shoes?

But for the grace of God…

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