She stepped off the #21 bus just as I exited the bank. Her pace was uneven but a knarly, wooden cane acted like a third leg, stabilizing her balance and allowing her brief seconds of peace in her feet. As I passed her I threw her a smile and commented on the warm weather we found ourselves in. Something she said made me slow down and talk with her as she negotiated the hard concrete of the sidewalk. Her name was Tasha.
With no urgency in her voice, Tasha spoke of her need to find some shelter in Milwaukee. As a homeless, single women, the precious spaces for homeless women are filled with women who have children. She’d been all over the city, ticking off the shelters she’d visited today. All of them full with women & children. Meals were not a problem, but a warm place to take her weight off her sore feet, was. I asked how she came to be homeless.
I sensed no ‘hussle’ in her voice as she told me of her journey. Cared for her mom. Mom died. House had a lien on it. Tasha had no money to pay for the house and relatives lived in Gary, IN. There was one rooming house that would take her for $22.50/week. She was heading to try one more place – Cornerstone in the area of Locust and Oakland. I said, “come with me.”
As the sun started its descent to the spring horizon, Tasha and I walked to my home, two blocks away. Her story continued with each carefully placed step she took. We talked about her future. The homeless were fresh in my mind since last night’s Town Hall meeting with my state Rep. Jon Richards and state Senator Chris Larson, where they explained that money for Medicaid, Badger Care and Senior Care was most likely going to see severe cuts in the next 2 years. One woman stood up at the meeting and talked about how this would mean a moral and spiritual ‘call to action’ for everyone, as the need for the homeless and mentally ill would be much greater than the state’s ability to meet it. A throng of silent heads nodded in agreement. When the state’s out of money, something’s got to give.
I gazed down at the boots she wore. Each step revealed the slope and angle that the boot traveled as it hit the sidewalk. It was obvious that the outer soles had acquiesced under the strain of her style of walking. She spoke of her diagnosis of Lupus in the last year. Now I knew why each step was slow and methodical and jived with the slight discoloration of her skin.
As she climbed the stairs to my home, she called out to my dogs. They allowed her the comfort of a soft chair and she talked to them in the same soft, slow voice she offered me. We talked some more and I asked her if I could photograph her. I told her why. I wanted to show that homelessness has a face. It’s real people and frankly, ‘therefore the grace of God go I.’
Out on the front porch and we talked some more as the sun started to sink between the three-story houses in my neighborhood. One more photo, some hugs goodbye, and with $25 now tucked in her pocket, Tasha moved down the sidewalk in the same turtle-like pace that brought her here. I was humbled and richer for offering her a simple greeting when I past her on the sidewalk. For 6 nights, she’d have a room.
I ask you, what would you have done? Would you hear the voice that says “you’re being taken?” “She’ll come back for more someday!” “She’s probably going to use it for drugs.” Or would you have looked into the whites of her eyes that were as clear as a fresh glass of water, opened your heart and wallet, and helped her. I’d love to hear your thoughts.