Friday, December 23, 2005


TAC Newsletter 12/23/05


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December 23, 2005


COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE (MO), November 30, 2005

[Editor’s Note: The holidays are joyous, a time to reaffirm, reconnect, and to
celebrate our love for those closest to us – but not for all. We ask you to
dedicate a moment thinking of those unable to bask in the pleasantries of the
season through no fault of their own.]



By Tony Messenger

Every year about this time, my thoughts turn to Patrick.

I met him 16 years ago. Even though he was in and out of my life in half an hour
or less, every Christmas season, Patrick is on my mind.

This year, Monday was Patrick day. That was when an elderly homeless man walked
into the newsroom to tell his story.

The thin black man with glasses and a thick salt-and-pepper beard wouldn’t tell
me his name. He wore the kind of stout fleece jacket, gloves and wool hat that
told me he was used to weathering the elements. He wanted to talk about Jesus.

So, too, did Patrick, so many years ago.

He came up to me as I sat on a step on an outdoor mall in downtown Denver,
listening to a choir sing Christmas songs. It was cold, and I was pushing my
infant daughter in a stroller. Patrick wanted to see the baby, and I placed
myself between him and the stroller instinctively. Patrick was homeless. He
reeked of alcohol and carried every earthly belonging with him in a green Army
surplus duffel bag.

Still, it was Christmas, and he just wanted to talk.

He didn’t have family anymore, he said. Once, he was an engineer, and then
things fell apart, and he ended up on the streets and alone. Since then, alcohol
had been his only friend. He slept under a bridge not far from there. It kept
him dry, he said. We sat and listened to the familiar sounds of the holiday
season, and he asked whether he could look at my baby daughter. It would make
his Christmas season, he said, and so, I let him.

Patrick smiled as Alisha slept. I don’t know what he was thinking or why he
seemed so happy, but at that moment, I felt a rush of guilt for every time I had
ignored a plea from a homeless person who, more than cash, might have just
wanted somebody to talk to.

I’m not sure whether the man I met Monday just wanted some conversation or
simply was hoping for a few minutes of warmth on a wet, windy November day, but,
thinking of Patrick, I sat down with him and asked him to tell me his story. It
didn’t go so well. All he would talk about was Cain and Abel and the Lord trying
to talk through him. He babbled about prophecies and said he couldn’t give me
his name without permission from his God.

"Where do you live?" I asked him.

"I live everywhere," he said.

With that, he left, promising to return in an hour if God told him that was a
good idea.

He never came back.

When he left, I called Lana Jacobs to ask whether she had ever met him. Jacobs
and her husband, Steve, run a local homeless shelter, and if there’s a person on
the streets living in Columbia she’s usually met them. The man rang a bell, she
said. She thinks he has local family and sometimes stays with them.

Other times, he’s on the street. She recalls him having breakfast at her shelter
a couple of days ago.

More and more of our homeless in Columbia are like him, she says, suffering from
various psychiatric ailments, from schizophrenia to dementia. This year’s winter
could be brutal on the homeless and soon-to-be-homeless population, Jacobs says.

With heating costs going through the roof, people living paycheck-to-paycheck
will be making the kinds of decisions that sometimes lead to the streets.
Shelters will be full, as they have been in recent years, but giving hasn’t
quite kept pace with so many good-hearted folks having sent aid to the
hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.

With nighttime temperatures dropping below freezing this week, Jacobs envisions
there will be people showing up at shelters such as hers just looking for floor
space for the evening.

So many years ago, Patrick told me he didn’t need the shelters. They made him
give up his booze, and besides he had a prime spot under a bridge that sheltered
him from the freezing wind.

My new homeless friend didn’t seem the boozer type. Jesus, I’m guessing,
wouldn’t approve of that.

I’m hoping he comes back to tell me his story.

It’s the Christmas season, after all.


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