Setting my things down on the empty couch at a local coffeehouse to begin working, I overhear a conversation going on between the shop’s proprietor and another customer. The customer is sitting adjacent to me at a table with two duffle bags tucked neatly under his table and a spare pair of shoes tied to the ends of each of his bags.
A “homeless” man, whom Taoists would term a “noble” traveler, this customer is looking for a safe place to sleep before moving through and out of town tomorrow.
“I was going to stay at Happy Homes shelter tonight, before moving on tomorrow,” he explains. “But, after I gave them my name, they looked me up in some medical database and found out that I had been diagnosed as being bipolar years ago. They told me that I had to see a doctor before I could get in.
He continues, “I haven’t had problems with my bipolar disorder in years, so I stopped taking the medication. Isn’t that stupid?”
Hearing what this man is saying, I ponder the logistics of what the shelter has proposed. Here is a man with an insufficient amount of cash to be able to afford a motel for the night. He is moving through. Yet, the shelter wants him to be able to afford a doctor’s visit. Then, there is the issue of how long it actually takes to get in to see a physician in this area—somewhere between three to six months.
In addition to these logistical issues regarding seeing a physician, I consider the fact that the man is not being allowed to acknowledge his own healing or the apparent improvement in his mental health. The other, larger issue is that of an organization having access, not only to one’s criminal record, but to one’s personal medical records.
Because of the hour, there are three of us in the coffeehouse. To assist in the process of finding a safe place to sleep, I pull out my phone to help search for the addresses of nearby shelters. Due to my walking patterns, I know where most of the neighborhood shelters are located, but I do not have addresses memorized.
In a few minutes, we have the address of another walkable shelter for this gentleman to try. Bending over his things to organize the few belongings he carries, he prepares to walk the eight or ten blocks to the proposed place of safety for the night.
It is late in the afternoon. I hope he makes the shelter’s narrow in-take hours and passes their “entrance examination.”
I would that a prayer of mine could solve this man’s issues. Instead, as he reaches to push the door of the coffeehouse open onto a very blustery late October afternoon, I shout out a lame cliché, “Hey, good luck tonight.” He nods in my direction, in acknowledgement of my statement.
And, I think, “It is I who should be acknowledging you, dear Sir.”