Our Town

One People

Today I watched a police officer escort a homeless family out of HyVee’s café.    They had been in the booth behind me, so quiet I never even knew they were there—a mother, a father, a little boy about six and a baby in a stroller.  I didn’t see them bother anyone or cause a disturbance.  They were just resting, watching the big screen TV.

The young officer wasn’t mean, but he wasn’t kind either.  He asked what they were doing.  He asked if they were staying at The House of Compassion (our homeless shelter), then he got them up and out the door.

I don’t blame him—he was doing his job, I guess.  But I’m furious at whoever made the call to the police in the first place.  The family looked poor, but clean.  They didn’t smell drunk or seem high on street drugs.  The breakfast rush was over, so taking up space for paying customers couldn’t have been the issue.  Maybe the sight of the sleeping mother was offensive.  Maybe the whole idea of homeless people in plain sight was offensive.

I’m sure it never occurred to the complainant to ask if the family needed help or breakfast.  Or to call their pastor instead of the police (because anyone who needed to call the police must own a strong sense of morality and, thus, have a pastor).  And I’m positive they didn’t understand that a homeless shelter is far from restful, especially for adults who must protect their children.  Leaving a shelter exhausted in the morning is the norm.  Poverty is exhausting.

When I left HyVee, I spotted them far down the road—the dad pushing the stroller, the mom lagging behind with the little boy.  Even at 9:30, the morning was hot and humid.  I wondered where they would find a welcoming place to rest.  I wondered if that was possible in this town.

23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kitt O'Malley
    Jun 09, 2015 @ 11:38:05

    Tragic. Truly tragic. I believe that many homeless shelters are open at the night, but not available for shelter during the day.


  2. radiatingblossom
    Jun 09, 2015 @ 11:44:56

    This makes me cry. Any one of us could find ourselves homeless at some point, depending upon the circumstances in our lives. It is wrong to think that it could NEVER happen to us. And once you are homeless, how horrifying and exhausting that must be…especially if you have children. Why is there so little empathy left in the world?


  3. Penny
    Jun 09, 2015 @ 12:58:07

    Could this be a letter to the editor? This made me sad…


  4. pegoleg
    Jun 09, 2015 @ 13:36:41

    This is a tough, tough issue. It’s not just a matter of compassion, and it so very much a matter of compassion. I have such mixed emotions about it.

    I visited my daughter when she was working in Salt Lake City last year and we went to one of her favorite places, the library. Salt lake City has a wonderful, huge library and a surprisingly large homeless population and it seemed most of them were spending the day there. They slept in chairs with their belongings blocking the aisles around them, many unkempt and smelling bad. Many walked around talking to themselves. From time to time a policeman would quietly wake up a sleeping person and they would shuffle off to sleep somewhere else.

    I felt so bad for these people. I also felt bad for the residents who wanted to study or read in their library but couldn’t find a chair. Should the community admit that is is the daytime branch of the homeless shelter and build a separate room with cots? Ban the homeless? Ban the people who want to read a book? Have a lottery to let in equal numbers of each?

    In our small town the library is also a favorite hangout for those at the shelter and I often see people I know at both places. 2 weeks ago on a Saturday I ran into a mom there who has been staying at the shelter with her 2 boys, ages 12 and 16, since the shelter opened in Sept. We chatted about my flooded basement and this and that, and as I left it struck me like a blow – how do you live your life when you have no home base, especially with kids that age? We’ve had other families at the shelter, but they usually have little kids. Especially now that school is out, these teens are bored, bored, bored with nothing to DO all day. Getting involved in extracurricular activities is tough and having friends over is impossible.

    Our shelter closed on 6/1 for the summer. With 2 weeks to go, the social worker said that many guests still had no firm plans. Some because they were on waiting lists for housing, but many because they just hadn’t done anything about it. They couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t want to deal with it…which is why they were there in the first place.

    Again, it’s such a tough problem and I don’t see any easy answer.


    • Sandy Sue
      Jun 09, 2015 @ 17:41:18

      Thank you for your thoughtful commentary, Peg. This line struck me: “They couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t want to deal with it…which is why they were there in the first place.” This is what poverty does. It sucks the hope and life out of a person. They have no strength or energy to push against the constant tide of defeat and red tape. At my poorest, I couldn’t muster the stamina to keep going back to Social Services again and again, or try to figure out Social Security’s website. At that low point a person needs help to do those things, but even more energy to find the help.

      It’s interesting that a shelter would close in the summer. As if it’s okay to let everyone sleep outside. With their kids.
      You’re so right. No easy answers.


  5. Kimberly
    Jun 09, 2015 @ 14:07:56

    what you witnessed is why Nan and I left Marshalltown. Too many zealots not enough compassion.


  6. LindaNoel
    Jun 09, 2015 @ 15:05:17

    I am so so sorry they experienced that. Yes, afraid we’ll be taken for fools, that it will infect/taint the denial that the American Way is the Best. I think the ideas that many of us grew up with in our post-WWII prosperous world linger on in spite of the reality of people’s lives. Ideas like “individualism”, “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps”, “a god helps those who help themselves”, “the poor are to blame for being uneducated and poor” ~~ and our Conservative Repugnican Congress cuts Food Stamps, Fox media accuses poor people of living high as freeloaders while fear-tactics and lies convince the poor to vote against their own best interests. *** Hmmmm, how incredibly risky and courageous it would have been for One individual — police or customer or staff — to stand up to the whole cafe and ask that we all pitch in for milk and simple sandwiches for this family so they can remain here, but nourished and rest before they have to go out into the exhausting homeless world…. Maybe they would have been met with Silence — BUT the Reality would have been Named Out Loud and people would have heard the Opportunity to Act in a small way for that family. Sigh.


  7. tjmcfee
    Jun 09, 2015 @ 18:59:05

    Reblogged this on brainsections and commented:
    Where is the “go fund me” breakfast when it is needed? Next time try buying one cup of coffee for them and see if they can stay for a little while.


  8. David Kanigan
    Jun 10, 2015 @ 03:39:04



  9. Littlesundog
    Jun 13, 2015 @ 08:27:49

    This is why it is often painful for me to venture out in society. I was shopping with a friend last week and a “panhandler” stood directly across from us at a stop light. His sign read, “I am SIMPLY HUNGRY”. He was a very young man with no backpack, or dog – just himself and the cardboard sign. He looked down on his luck. It bothered me all day. It’s the eyes that we connect with and the body posture.


    • Sandy Sue
      Jun 13, 2015 @ 10:59:19

      Someday I will reach the point where I can just act. Give money when it’s asked for. Not put any judgement on the gift. Talk to someone who seems in distress. Just act.


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