From Hawaii To The City I Am You This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
   Cambridge, Massachusetts, Summer 1992. The weather's cold, rainy. You are seven thousand miles away from home. Here are more people and more concrete. Along the Charles River in the morning you see businessmen hurrying to work, runners rushing past, or ... a homeless person tries not to wake up; he huddles under a tree in a sleeping bag, soaked. You are warned not to walk alone at night. Along Holyoke Street a long-bearded man makes his bed a vent heated by warm air, or poisonous gas. He solicits you for spare change, futilely: you are muttering "sorry" or "no" and not looking him in the eyes and wondering what he would do with the coins in your pocket anyway. Another night, on the next street down, a black figure thrusts his empty baseball hat onto the sidewalk from a doorway. You buy him an apple. He's shocked. Weeks later you find him again. He says his stomach couldn't take it; his hunger is only for booze.

At St. James Shelter, a seven-week transitional home for fifteen "motivated" men, the guests and volunteers meet for the first time. At first awkward, the relationship between street-wise survivors and university students becomes treasured. Ira helps you bring out the bed linen. Paul, once an economist in Hungary, now a thirty-year-old man who looks fifty, offers help with Russian to Maria, a college sophomore. Stanley and James discuss ways of selling the second issue of Spare Change, a publication by and for Boston homeless.

In the second week, a guest is kicked out for drinking. After four weeks Stanley is mysteriously fired from both his position on Spare Change and his bed at the shelter. You find him in Harvard Square, needing change for a sandwich. He's slept around this place for several years and knows well the people who share his condition. Almost a fourth of the people who pass turn out to be homeless. He recognizes a family, a bellicose woman, a punk youth, a fat drunk man who crosses the street barely missed by a car. Stanley will try to get his high school diploma and help raise the literacy of homeless people. He is open with you. It is a brutal openness. The summers are more dangerous for us, he says, since a lot of the shelters close down; there's more violence. But then again, winters are awful too. Fighting for a bed in the limited shelter space. Last year someone froze to death. And always, all year, every day, the physical and psychological degradation. Where to go to the bathroom. Where to find water. Food. Or, the more necessary things. Self-respect. Hope.

A block down, a haggard woman sits on a doorstep smiling. She says you can call her "Sue" but makes it clear she can't tell you her real name. "Only the dead are homeless," she says, and pulls another cigarette from her shopping cart. She says the dead have been killed by cannibals. And that you are not to eat any of the meat in the supermarket for it is human. Her words are hard, hard to hear or consider, but she is talking to you, not herself, and when you part, her words are kind: she has appreciated your gesture, thanking, with "Stay safe ..."

By the summer's end at least ten men have found a home and a job. St. James Shelter has a closing barbecue. The guests are sad ... but have at the least found friendship. Some volunteers have glimpsed the meaning of humanity. "Everyone is human" is etched in the city's walls and carried back to Hawaii. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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