Posted by: Patti Dickinson | 04/23/2010

Homelessness in Kansas City


Five days ago, Wood and I helped deliver meals to the homeless in Kansas City.  We rode with Greg, who has been with Project Uplift since its inception nearly twenty years ago.  He’s is the driver — a friendly, cigar-smoking, easy to talk to guy and Heather, an insightful young volunteer who is in pharmaceutical sales rep by day. This particular Wednesday night, she was with Wood and I, showing us the ropes, giving us the back story of life on the streets, as Greg drove and the four of us bounced along. Literally.  A very bouncy truck.

We made six or seven stops.  Out of the back, Heather served dinner.  A Mexican casserole, a fruit cup, plastic silverware, some cookies.  I filled up recycled water bottles with lemonade.

Out the side door, Greg and I distributed socks, canned goods, underwear, soap, Q-Tips, shampoo, t-shirts, recycled paperback books, Advil, cough drops, bandages and dried cat/dog food.  Wood took the stats — how many we served meals to, their first names and the supplies we gave them.

All of these residents-of-the-outdoors were different.  Different in the way they looked, the way they had survived the elements, different in temperament, different in sobriety or not.  No universal, all-encompassing profile to describe them.  Most of them were eager to talk, to connect over their paper plate piled high with food. Wanting to share their story, tell their tale.  Asking for no more than they needed in supplies. Interesting, when you have next to nothing materially, what you ask for. What you are grateful to have.  A pair of dry socks, a candle and a book of matches, a plastic sack of canned goods.  A dog-earred paperback book or two. Not much, really.  Very little in fact.

The route is the same every week, and both Greg and Heather knew most of the men and women by name.  Knew their story, which they filled me in on between stops.  It was all almost too much to absorb.  I couldn’t process the information fast enough to have much to mull over after the fact. Too much visual and oral information to take in at once.  We’d no sooner met, fed and re-stocked their supplies for them, than we were back in the truck heading for the next stop.

Wood and I stopped at Winstead’s on the way home, since we didn’t know that it would take as long as it did.  It was almost ten and we hadn’t eaten dinner. We settled into the booth.  Looked across the table from one another and recognized, without even saying it out loud, that this experience was not one we could share right then. We ate in silence. We munched on our cheeseburgers, and left half of it on our plates.  It seemed almost too stark a contrast to where we had just been.  On the streets where men and women, in this country of ours, go hungry.  I don’t think I slept three hours that night.

Instead, I watched the documentary in my head.

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