Tuesday, October 1, 2013
A girl child's sandal.
A day planner.
A year-old calendar, math final X'd out.
Shards of glass bottles.
An upended electric stove.
Empty plastic bags.
Broken tent poles.
Clothes strewn about.
Deflated soccer balls.
A photograph of a young girl, maybe age 4.
As the rain falls, I pick each item up. One by one. Toss them in a black plastic trash bag.
Even the homeless have an excess of possessions. These things that make up a life.
Everything we consume comes wrapped in plastic. So much plastic.
Days later, it's the photograph I remember. Who is that girl? Who left her photo behind? How have I lived here for five years and not know about this camp? How many have passed through here in that time?
I may be a gypsy, but I have never been homeless. Never known this kind of need. Never seen it anywhere. Not in this country. Not in others.
The people I meet are clean cut. Not like the homeless I see downtown with cardboard signs. The ones who shout and yell and make a fuss. These are the invisible homeless. Hard times they say landed them here. They hope to get back on their feet.
In the meantime, they wave flags outside their tents. The stars and stripes. College football flags. These are their homes. This is their neighborhood.
Together, we pick up items left abandoned by others who have gone on. Side by side, we dig up the trash of their neighbors who simply don't bother. Because even here there are the neighbors who just don't care. But we haul it away in bags and wheelbarrows and truck beds. We clean up their front yard. At the end of the day, two trailer loads later, we've barely made a dent in the need. But we did something.
And I can't help but think of the Modoc Indians and Captain Jack. Warriors who lived in lava caves, rebelling against the authorities that sought to banish them to life with their adversaries. But that was 1873. And here it's 2013, and warriors still live on land formed by lava flows, hiding from authorities or risk being thrown out. Out of this camp. Their home.