Help the Most Vulnerable

“Hey, do you have a phone?” a woman asks people as they pass by in the plaza.
“They always lie” she says looking my way.
“Do you have a phone? My battery died” she asks me.
“I think my batteries dead too” I say. Which is a partial lie.
I’m sitting in the plaza eating cookies and drinking Chai with my kids. It’s a cold day, us and the woman across the plaza are the only people stationary. Everyone else is walking through, getting lunch or last-minute Thanksgiving stuff.
The woman moves to the table next to us. She has short grey hair, a little beard on her chin, her voice is raspy but almost like a teenage boy, she must be close to sixty years old.
“I’m trying to call my case worker, I need my meds, I need to contact Paul, do you have a phone?” she asks again, this time less than a foot away from me, my kids are watching our interaction. A police car pulls up and the woman gets anxious, she says they are trouble for her. I ask her if she knows the number, she does so I let her use my phone. A woman answers from the city health department in the city north of mine, the receptionist knows Sebra, she transfers her to Paul, her case worker. An answering machine comes on and Sebra leaves a message. She tells him she needs her meds and a quilt for the night. I tell Sebra I have to leave soon, It’s time for the kid’s gymnastics class.
I tell her that I need to take them to class, but that we will come back around and check on her, let her know if Paul called back, and if Paul doesn’t bring the comforter me and the kids will bring one. We go to gymnastics, but Paul doesn’t call back. We realize Fiona left her tiny (her most precious stuffy) at the Indian restaurant where we had lunch. We have to go back downtown no matter what. We pick up Tiny at the restaurant and see that Sebras still there in the plaza.
“Sebra Paul didn’t call back” I say to her.
“You took way longer than you said you would” she says.
“Did you bring the comforter?”
“No, we’ll go get it right now, we wanted to make sure you were still here” I say.
The kids and I drive over to the Salvation army and buy two comforters and two pillows. We drive back and I illegally park in the bus stop. I leave the kids in the car to talk with Sebra. I ask her too many questions and she tells me I’m asking her too many questions she doesn’t know the answer to. I realize she is in crisis. She tells me her legs are stinging because of the pee, that she needs to change her pull up, that she can’t control her bladder, that she needs her meds before the holiday starts, she starts asking me what she should do. We call Paul again and he answers the phone, but his voice disappears. The kids start yelling someone’s on the phone in the car. I had left my car running so the call transferred to blue tooth. Sebras not happy about this. I say let’s try again. We go through the questions again and this time Sebra stops me and asks me what she should do. I realize again this person is in crisis. I take a deep breath. She had told me she’s sleeping at city hall. It’s already four and Sebra doesn’t want to sit in the plaza anymore. But she doesn’t want to miss Paul if he shows up with her meds. She can’t walk all the way to City Hall with her bag of stuff and the new quilts and pillows. She’s also let me know she’s scared of the other homeless people.
I decide to give her a ride to city Hall and call Paul again from inside the car. She likes this idea but is concerned about my car seat, she asks if I have any plastic to put on the seat. I do, she gets in the car and the stench of ammonia from the pee is so strong. I open the windows but Sebra says she’s cold and asks if she can close the window. I have the heat cranked to 80 degrees and Sebra says it feels so good. I take a deep breath and look at Sebra. I tell her we will call Paul again from the car when we get to city hall. I was able to shed my nervous uncomfortable smile on my face and my questioning. I was able to hunker down with Sebra in the situation and grasp the seriousness of it. We got to city hall, I backed into her spot, kept the car running and called Paul again. I took another deep breath; I had been pronouncing Sebra’s name wrong all along and her patience was running thin. I said the name correctly and reversed what I would say to Paul when he answered. Sebra and the kids watched me in silence. The phone rang and Paul answered. He was twenty minutes away and had the meds.
Sebra and I got out of the car. She was amazed her sleeping bag was still there, but someone had put poop on top of it. It was poop on a plastic bag, Sebra wanted me to take it to the trash can by the library, but I wasn’t going to do it. She scooped it up with her sleeping bag and put in by a bush, but she was concerned because other people stash their blankets there and people walk through there. Maybe I should have tried to get rid of the poop, but I’m always leery of needles and scooping up a sleeping bag with poop on it seemed like a risky thing without proper safety equipment.
I set up her bed, I put an old beach blanket I had in my car down, then one quilt, then the other and the pillows. She kept saying they were too nice to be used outside. She asked if I had an extra room, she could sleep in. I said no. She wanted to know If I could stay longer or come back, I said no. At the plaza I had touched her shoulder when I was apologizing for upsetting her by asking so many questions and she had said don’t touch me. But now, as I was leaving, she said Thank You so much several times and gave me a hug.
I got home and had to start making dinner right away, it was my husband and my anniversary, and I had promised him stew. He had called me on my way home wondering if he should just order his own food. I felt bad but have an instapot! Stew can be ready in an hour and a half! I got the stew started and kept thinking about Sebra. I had to take a shower, it just felt like I had that smell on me. But I felt, I can’t really explain how I felt. Just thinking that we, as a society are willing to let our fellow humans sleep outside in freezing cold in their own piss is what I thought about. How could we do that? Sebra really didn’t know what to do, except that she needed her meds, she needed help. At least ten people walked by her in the plaza as she asked people to use their phones. Everyone said no. Then a cop car showed up, someone must have called the cops, but by this time Sebra was sitting by me. The cop stayed for maybe fifteen minutes then drove off.
Last night the kids kept asking me questions, where do homeless people sleep, where do homeless people eat, why can’t Sebra get a bed? I had told them about the beds at St. Vincents, but that they only have a small number of beds. Jack asked why can’t Sebra put the quilt on the floor? I said it doesn’t work like that. He couldn’t understand. When I told them about the soup kitchen, I said we could go help one time and Fiona said YES I WANT TO DO THAT! Jack said, no, I don’t want to see that homeless person again.
I think it’s scary to see what we all are, that innate humanness that’s in all of us. Some of us luckier than others. But we don’t know what Sebras circumstances are, how she arrived at this place. But I think it can happen to anyone. I think Jack and Fiona can see that too, and that they are lucky. They are lucky to sleep in a warm house. I just got a freeze warning on my phone from tonight until Friday. I hope the city does something to take in the homeless people tonight. I think I need to make a few calls today.

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Thoughts on Motherhood Through the Eyes of an Artist