The man is friendly and talkative. He looks approachable. He’s relatively young.
He first met John during a Sozo Health Ministry First Friday at Central Library. John answered a health question for him, and he was very grateful for John’s time and care.
A few weeks ago, the man came to Patchwork for the first time. He saw John right away and asked, “Remember me?”
“Yes,” John responded. “I’m glad you came to Patchwork.”
The man looked around in shock, “Wait, this is Patchwork?! I’m at Patchwork?!” It was as if he’d reached the promised land.
“Yes. Yes you are,” John told him.
The man has come to Patchwork often in the past few weeks. He’s homeless and has many serious issues going on in his life. His personal hygiene can be a problem, even with the use of our shower. Our staff watches out for him and helps him connect with his case manager from Aurora, Evansville’s homeless services agency. The reasons for his homelessness and the solutions for his homelessness are complicated, but we all want to see things get better for him. Patchwork is one safe place in a city with many places where he is unwelcome.
A couple weeks ago he took a shower at Patchwork, and in the time that he showered his feet swelled so much he couldn’t put his shoes back on. We were all worried about him. It was very cold, but he was ready to walk out of Patchwork in his stocking feet. Finally, we convinced him to take time to sit in the recliner in Patchwork’s library where he could put his feet up. He remained a little agitated, though. Things got worse when the next person to come through Patchwork’s doors was an older man with a small dog.
“I’m afraid of dogs! I’m afraid of dogs!” the first man yelled.
The dog looked at him, then jumped up in the recliner and snuggled next to him. The man started petting the dog, and we all saw his body relax.
The dog’s owner leaned over to one of our staff members and whispered, “Don’t tell him, but that’s a dog.”
This is what community looks like at Patchwork.
This week, the homeless man was back. He appeared one afternoon to reclaim a grocery cart that he’d left behind that morning. As I wheeled it out to him, he realized that he was waiting for a ride from his case manager and she wouldn’t be able to transport it.
“Keep it,” he told me. “Give it to the next person who you see who needs it.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. I know the carts can be very helpful when someone is carrying things and is on foot. I also know that they take up a lot of space and that we didn’t need another one taking up space at Patchwork.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “You help people, so keep it and give it to someone else.”
I looked at this cart that Patchwork did not need, that I did not want, and that harbored who knew what colonies of germs.
“OK,” I said, and I took it inside.
It was a gift generously given. It was a gift just like the financial contribution we received in the mail that day, the volunteer’s time spent in the Arts & Smarts program, or the food dropped off for our food pantry. Someone carrying too many bags too far across the city will, indeed, be grateful to receive it.
Who am I to turn down this gift.