I met Robert on Thursday night. He had been in town for ten days and was not prepared for homelessness. His job fell through and he found himself stranded in the cold of downtown Seattle. Because of Covid there are literally no shelter beds for people experiencing homelessness. He asked if I knew of anyone that could provide bus tickets home and was delighted to find out that I was able to help. I explained how I needed to verify that he had a safe place to go and that he didn’t have any warrants out for his arrest. Robert spent the next half hour explaining his history of incarceration. It was no small task to assure him that I just needed to make sure he had no active warrents in Washington state. His anxiety made me sad, reminding me that people get institutionalized and over policed. He reminded me how we criminalize poverty in America.
The following morning, I called his mom, she was worried about him and happy to have him home. This almost never happens. Having a loving family will make all the difference in his ability to stay alive and get off the street. I do the background check and he is all clear to take the three- day bus ride home. We meet and discuss the departure time for tomorrow morning. His mom calls me three more times and eventually invites me out to her house as well!
We meet at the bus stop and Robert is on time. This almost never happens. He stayed at the airport the night before and is ready to get out of Seattle. As were checking in, we discover that his bus is cancelled. The station in Spokane is closed due to record snow fall. What are the odds? A homeless man wants to go home, passes the background check, has a home to go to, and shows up on time. You can’t control the weather. His frustration doesn’t deter his gratitude and we reschedule for the next day. I talk with his mom three more times who asks me how old I am and if I am single! Flattery will get you everywhere.
Sunday morning, we meet at six thirty am at the bus station. He has made friends with the station clerks who let him store his suitcase overnight. Robert offers me some t shirts and a bracelet as a thank you gift. His departure from chilly Seattle is in motion. His mom calls me and hits on me again. I take a nap and marvel at how much a two-hundred-dollar bus ticket can change somebody’s life.