Her name matters
as much as she does.

She asks me:
“How does a homeless person get money?
Where do they sleep?
Where can they get food?
Where do they wash up and go to the bathroom?”

and then in a whisper:
“How am I going to get through this?”

I don’t want to answer her questions.
Too cruel to just spring it on a person like that:
You have NOWHERE to go.
There are rules to enforce,
Tickets to hand to people like you:
Don’t sit on that bus bench to get off your swollen feet.
Don’t sleep in the doorway; that’s illegal lodging.
Don’t use the restrooms in restaurants you can’t afford to eat in.
Don’t jaywalk,
Don’t litter,
Don’t take the trolley without a full-price ticket,
Can’t pay the citations? They’ll put you in jail.
That’s one way to finally get a place to sleep!
Don’t think we’re going to make it bearable for you to stay here
in America’s Finest City!

Before long, you’ll reek of your humanity.
You’ll hold your hand in front of you mouth when you speak
to hide your missing teeth.
Men in smart suits will tell you to get a job.
Ladies with Nordstrom makeovers and perfect manicures
won’t notice you at all
while you fish through the trash for recyclables,
lucky if you find a half-eaten sandwich…
You’ll sniff it,
check it for bugs
and devour it.

I marveled that she was so unprepared to be impoverished.
One day she thought she could somehow make it,
the next she was out on the street
Misfortune has a way of hitting folks
like a truck that comes barreling around the corner,
out of the blue,
In a flash it could be you.

You’ll never see it coming
and then you are almost sixty,
worked as a nurse for twenty years,
’till your back gives out,
then your Workmen’s Comp runs out,
along with your options.

Or you’re twenty-four and after serving three tours in Iraq,
you can’t cope with the freedom you thought you were fighting for.
You just need some time to gather together your brain cells,
and ya know,
a place to sleep while you sort out reality.

Or you’re a young mother
ditched by the man you trusted to help you raise your daughter,
living in a broken-down van
with a baby too young for Head Start.
The Army won’t take you back because you gained weight,
Repairs for your van take the last dollar you have
and no way to pay the parking tickets
so the City won’t impound your only place to sleep.

Or you’re a 50-year-old disabled veteran,
just making it on disability
living in a camper in your daughter’s backyard.
Now your son-in-law says you have to leave.
Cheapest rent you can find
is a hundred bucks more than you get every month.

You’re just another sad story.
One of thousands who need a hand.
You’re somebody’s mother,
anybody’s daughter,
everybody’s solider,
nobody’s concern.

Should I tell her the truth?
“Your name matters as much as you do,
and if I can help you find a place to sleep tonight
you’ll have a reason to wake up tomorrow.”