Naturally, ten minutes in, I was greeted by the sight of the daytime bus shooting past on the other side of the street on its way downtown. Dammit.
Treating myself to a muttered curse under my breath, I buckled down and left-righted down Lee St. toward downtown. As I passed under the overpass that carries Freeman Mill Road over Lee St., I looked up into the girders. I had noticed signs of habitation there before, but this time I saw the inhabitant. A thin, bearded man relaxed against a concrete block at the top of the slope waved as a passed by. I waved back, but kept my pace. Once I passed out from under the bridge's shadow, though, I stopped. I remember I'd written about how while we were homeless, we'd not met any others. Something also told me that this man had a story that needed telling. So I about-faced, went back under the bridge and asked him if he had a moment. He said sure, come on up.
Okay. We've done the climbing the bridge support slope thing before. Yes, my knees objected. Yes, my feet complained (after all, asking them to pull a six hour shift bearing by 240-plus pounds, then walking nearly three miles on concrete was a bit much). And yes, this time, my hip decided to consider mutiny, but I did it. After a moment, I was sitting next to Tim, a friendly man that looked to me not too much younger than me. I introduced myself, gave him a 50-words-or-less version of my story and asked if I could ask him a few things to put in the blog.
Tim is a born-again Christian who's been homeless since March of 2000. Originally from South Carolina, he once was riding high enough economically to buy his mother a house. Unfortunately a series of layoffs hit the family and they eventually lost the house. Tim bounced between Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Florence (once walking the 80 miles between Florence and Columbia looking for work). He stayed with various relatives, and when that looked like it would become an extended period, he began staying in various shelters and other temporary lodgings. He arrived in Greensboro on a borroed bus ticket in 2002 and has been here ever since.
In talking with Tim, I noticed that he didn't seem to have any obvious infirmities. He was physically fit enough to climb up the bridge slope and possessed all his limbs. His speech wasn't slurred and he had excellent motor control, indicating no mental or chemical impairment. He was very articulate and attributes his good health to his faith in God. He told me that he had a good upbringing, in a family that took its relationship with God seriously. He was saved in 1997. He hasn't let his ill fortune get the better of him, seeing his periods of homelessness as opportunities to learn life lessons and to use them to make himself a better person. He has admitted to bouts of depression, but has unshakable faith that God will always see him through.
I couldn;t spend much time, becuase the light levels were fading, and I was having trouble seeing the notes I was hurriedly taking, but I made sure before I left to give him the address of the blog and promised that I'd get his story out there. I also gave him two organizations I could think of off the top of my head (one was the Guilford County Homeless Prevention Coalition -- heads up, Cara!) and under the guise of "paying him for his time," I gave him some of the cash I'd gotten from the plasma center. Seemed the right thimg to do.
I haven't been back that way since, so I been able to check on him. But you know what? Seeing and hearing the way Tim talked about his faith in God, I know he's doing just fine.
*You read right. There are places where you can go and sell blood plasma to help make ends meet. It's not as ghoulish as it sounds. The plasma is used to make products such as hemophilia treatments and the procedure is clean and quick. Still, it does necessarily involve needles and pain, which is why I don't make a regular habit of it.
This comment you made got my attention:
"In talking with Tim, I noticed that he didn't seem to have any obvious infirmities. He was physically fit enough to climb up the bridge slope and possessed all his limbs. His speech wasn't slurred and he had excellent motor control, indicating no mental or chemical impairment."
FYI: The majority of the folks I know who are mentally ill or have addiction disorders do NOT slur their speech or lack motor control. Addiction and mental illness are not always obvious. (I don't know Tim's situation, and this isn't directed at him.)