Today was one of those days where there was a lot of pain interspersed with activity and laughter of the afternoon. Body language showed Frank, a guest, wanted to talk. When I sat down beside him he wordlessly took my hand in his and placing both our hands over his heart, sat silently for a few minutes. He then asked if I had heard about the murder on Tuesday night. I had, but the details were few. While continuing to hold my hand he began looking through his pockets and bag for the article from the paper. The victim had not yet been identified to the public. "He was my brother," he said. As we talked his eyes filled with tears and made a slow descent down his cheeks. "He's gone". As he dabbed at his eyes he said "I was taught men don't cry. I know I can cry here." After a few minutes of conversation he released my hand, leaned in for a hug and exclaimed, "I'll be alright". He then asked if we had any cardboard so he wouldn't need to climb in the dumpster looking for some. "I need to make a sign so I can get to work and make some money. I need to go and visit my sister. She doesn't know. She will need me". Almost to reassure himself as much as me, he repeated, "I'll be alright", and off he went to the bathroom to wash his face.
May it be so!
Frank has remained on the street for so long, it is unlikely he will ever feel at home in a building with 4 walls. He lives with a group of people for companionship and safety on the street. He calls them family. He says he wants a home, but says he knows it will never happen for him. Leases do not let anyone stay in your room who is not on the lease, and he knows if his friends needed a place to crash, he would let them. He has been evicted for that very reason in the past. Frank shows signs of FAS, and is an addict. Both make him vulnerable as well as a threat on the street. Alcohol, inhalants. drugs ..... whatever it takes to dull the pain is used. Frank checks in at Oak Table, and tries hard to not be under the influence when he comes. When he succeeds, he comes in for a visit, to do some art, to participate in a smudge, to catch up with volunteers and staff. When he is under the influence, he will ask for, and receive a take-out meal at the door, along with clean socks and underwear, and some protein bars.
If one looks at Frank, and sees only the impact of a life on the street, a life of addiction, it makes it easy to look the other way. Frank is much more than that. He is a man with a kind and gentle soul that is tormented by rejection, disappointment, violence, and shattered dreams. His addiction is part of the cycle of poverty he has been part of, even before he was born.
For Frank and others, Oak Table is where they turn when in crisis or need. We need your help to be a Community of Compassion and Hope to the poor, the homeless, isolated, lonely, and those living with mental illness or addictions. We need your help to be that place for Frank, and others he calls family.