There are certain images that struck me several years ago when I found I could no longer ignore the many homeless people sleeping on the streets of Seattle’s U-District. One was the sight of people sleeping underneath the marquee of the Neptune Theater, the home of many alternative rock shows. At night, the area is full of young people waiting in line, excited to go to the concert. In the morning, the scene is too often the one you see above, taken a few days ago on a very cold morning.
This person had three or four bags of belongings gathered around them as they slept. One of the biggest problems homeless people have, beyond finding adequate shelter and staying warm, is theft. They are constantly getting their things stolen, including their electronics, purses, wallets, and clothing.
One of the guests (as they are known) at the homeless shelter where I volunteer every week recently had his computer stolen. It happened at the shelter, in the confusion after a fight broke out shortly after the lights went out for the night.
This guest is a quiet, gentle person. I’ll call him Reggie here. He’d been staying at the shelter for at least six months, and I’d had many conversations with him about books, movies, current events, and other topics. Recently Reggie had become obsessed with computer programming, and he would talk your ear off about code and scraping websites and other things that were hard for us to understand. Perhaps, I thought, this skill would be his ticket out of homelessness.
But then his computer was gone, taken from him in what should have been a safe space. He seemed philosophical about this, but I know he must have been devastated.
He said that the library only let you use their computers for an hour and a half each day. Most of us take for granted that we have a computer and internet access whenever we need it, for however long we need it. Most homeless people don’t have that luxury, which makes it harder for them to access services, look for jobs and housing, and many other things that we now do almost exclusively online.
A week before Christmas I bought a new computer. This was a big deal for me, since I had mostly purchased used or underpowered computers in the past. (I also bought a Mac for the first time, but that’s the topic for another post.)
So I had an old netbook that I no longer needed. It was slow, but it worked. So on Christmas Eve at the shelter, I was able to pull Reggie aside and give hime the machine. In his quiet way, he thanked me profusely. He told me he was leaving in a few days to move back to Kansas, where his family lived. (There had been abuse issues in the past, but he was going to try to make it work.) He noted that now he could program on the computer during the long bus ride back to the Midwest.
The fact that I caught Reggie before he left and was able to help him in this way was the best Christmas present I could receive. A small thing for me, but a big thing for him. I gave him a hug before he departed the next morning and wished him good luck. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again (a sometimes tough part of volunteering at the shelter and getting to know the guests). But I hope Reggie finds peace, and love, and housing, and a programming job sometime down the road. I do have hope.