My acceptance of Robert’s optimism is just naive wishful thinking. For the last week or so, he’s been saying that he was supposed to get a subsidized apartment on February 1. But I ran into him yesterday (he’s turning up most days now) and he immediately handed me his case worker’s card and a post-it note that had the name of the facility and “wait list 10 months to a year” written on it in pencil. He said that his caseworker had told him to give it to me.
He wanted me to meet his caseworker, so we walked down to the Salvation Army. The receptionist greeted him by name and asked him what he needed. He told her that he wanted his caseworker to meet his “friend, who’s been helping [him] out”. The receptionist told him to wait a minute. The decor of the lobby was of the institutional faux wood-finish, acoustic tile variety that my elementary school (and probably every other American school built or remodeled between 1950 and 1985) was built out of. Robert showed me some slides someone had given him.
His caseworker came out of her office and shook my hand. She looked like someone who’d been doing this for awhile, she matched the office decor in a weird way. She basically confirmed what I’d gathered from the piece of paper. Things are looking bleak. She made some comments of support to Robert and rushed off pretty quick.
Before we left, Robert retrieved another business card. He wanted to give it to someone at his church. He’s networking, I think.
We walked toward the coffeeshop that I’d originally been heading toward and talked over the situation.
“The way things are going, I think I’ll stay here for another week and if something doesn’t happen, I’ll call home and have my mother send me a one-way ticket back to Tennessee.”
I agreed. “That sounds like a good idea. You’ve been in Seattle for a long time. Maybe you need a change of pace.”
Later, when I was going over this again, I remembered some stories Robert had told me about the last time he’d visited his mother. She lived in a big house, but had no running water. His step-father is confined to a wheelchair. Robert is 45 or 46, so they must be in their sixties at least. But, I mean, what else can he do?
He asked me for money for a place to stay and I reminded him that I couldn’t just keep giving him money indefinitely and that my bank account is pretty drained right now. It’s more complicated than that, I have money locked away, but I don’t want to use it right now.
He sensed my hesitation and looked pained, like he thought I was hiding something from him.
I told him he’d need to find space in a mission.
“My bed has been given to someone else tonight.”
I gave him five dollars for a meal, sentencing him to another night sleeping in a doorway.
Later I ran into him again.
He asked me, “What are you up to?”
“I’m going to see a band.”
I asked him what he’d been doing.
“I’ve just been walking around. I went back to talk to my caseworker and she lifted my spirits a little. When I told her about going back to Tennessee, she said not to give up. Even if I have to get by out here in the streets for another year.”
He asked me for another five dollars, to buy food for a kid that he’s been looking out for. I gave it to him and we parted ways.
It snowed last night.