Notes from the corner

Author Patrick Newman shares notes from the street

Sunday, Dec. 22: Four or five homeless people came up to us and said some version of: “I’m glad you are here doing this.” One homeless woman: “They’ll never be back!” As if to say: “Can’t you see what a fool you are?” But there was no malice in it. It made me laugh, and, yes, I can see what a fool I am—when I’m thinking straight.

Saturday Dec. 28: More time sitting on the curb at the market, with two homeless guys. One, a peaceful Vietnam-era vet, got all his stuff—guitar, wheelchair, cane, cart—impounded by the Chico Police Department. Something to put on the police blotter, I suppose. Tears my heart out—total bullshit.

Sunday, Dec. 29: My neighbor came back with a sign and chair. She said it was funny breaking the sit/lie ordinance. A roller-derby homeless girl came by. She told us about dressing up as an angel and handing out candy on Christmas Eve.

Monday, Dec. 30: Met a man while walking my dog near Children’s Playground. One of many—the pack, the unwashed clothes, the fifty-something years of hard life written on his face. He said he was looking for his parents, then said they were dead, and then said he was looking for them. I gave him some bus money. Who knows what he did with it? Who cares? I hugged him and walked away with tears in my eyes. That’s a new thing, but a welcome thing.

Saturday, Jan. 4: I noticed a homeless man go over and listen to a young woman playing a guitar. I saw him put a bill in her tip jar and thought to myself, “Oh, my! How extraordinary.” Then my stupid brain was awakened by my less stupid brain and I thought, “You dumbass, these people are probably more generous than anyone, if you look at what they actually own and how they share, just to survive.” Thoughts such as that filled my mind, which reminded me that I am full of preconceptions and bullshit. Try. Fail. Rejoice. Repeat.

Sunday, Jan. 5: Two 17- or 18-year-old women came up to me as I was putting up my signs. They asked how to get to Highway 99. One had been on the streets since she was 10. Both had been in foster care. They were in Chico for only a few hours and I said I hoped they found it to be a good place. They said they had experienced generosity. Off they went. I vividly remember this encounter, because of the joy in them … in the face of obvious adversity, and because of a feeling of deep gratitude to the many people of Chico who make this a soft place rather than a hard place.

Sunday, Jan. 12: A thought is emerging as I stand on the corner. I see crisis ahead, on a global scale. Earth wounded or dying, Earth as home, all of us homeless, homelessness our future—loving them is loving us.