Thomas sat back down on the wire crate he had been sitting on prior to his brief encounter with Dallas. He watched Dallas gather all his belongings and place them in a shopping cart he had taken from a local merchant. Shopping carts are a must item for the homeless. You can’t live without them just as most people can’t live without a car in the normal world. Thomas watched Dallas slowly gather what he had and started back down the sidewalk to his next homeless community. Thomas felt a bit of sympathy for Dallas, as strange as that may sound. Like so many homeless people, Dallas had psychological problems. It was true that most were alcoholics and drug addicts whose families could no longer deal with them. But, state mental health facilities had failed most of the people Thomas had met in his time on the streets. It was a sad commentary on healthcare in America. For his part, Thomas lived this way because he didn’t want to bring any further shame and embarrassment to his family. He tried living with his brother three years ago. That lasted about 48 hours after he had a run-in with his sister-in-law. Maybe, just maybe he should try living on the terms of others instead of his own for a change. His anti-social behavior had been a problem all his life. “Thomas, you want to walk over to the Mission House with me? They be having vegetable soup and bologna sandwiches today. That’s my favorite, ya know?” said Jack, his only true friend in the community. Thomas smiled up at his slow-minded friend. “Sure, Jack, I’ll walk over with you. Just give me a minute to load up,” said Thomas.
“You don’t have to load up your stuff, Thomas. Miss Betty here will watch over it for you just like she will mine, won’t you Miss Betty?” asked Jack. A rather pale, sickly looking woman, in her mid-fifties, looked at Jack and Thomas to say, “Of course, I will. I’ll be glad to look over your stuff for you while you are gone,” said Miss Betty. This wasn’t one of the people Thomas knew much about or trusted. Plus, as much as he liked Jack, he knew his mentally-challenged friend was far too trusting of people. Still, he couldn’t pass up a hot meal after such a harrowing morning. “Is there anything we can bring you back ma’am?,” asked Thomas. “No, thank you, Thomas. I just don’t feel too good this morning. Not much of an appetite right now. But, thanks just the same. You boys go on and eat,” said the obvious sickly woman. Thomas was going to bring back a couple of hot sandwiches for her just in case she changed her mind. That was against the rules at the Mission House. But, in the world of Thomas Gordon, rules were made to be broken. Thomas and Jack made the ten minute walk to the Mission House just in time for the lunch line to form. Usually, food lines were long at the Mission House. They never turned anyone away. But, on this day, there were only two homeless people in line. This was not the norm. One of the house captains was at the door to keep order of the line. “What’s going on today, cap’n? Not much business today?” asked Thomas. “It’s the new mayor. He is insisting that the sidewalk be kept free and clear for passerby’s to walk. It appears that many of the homeless are fearful of being hassled by police. I’m still surprised there are not more people in line though. There has to be something else going on,” said the house captain.
After their meal of vegetable soup and fried bologna sandwiches, Thomas and Jack made their way back to their community. Thomas had a couple of hot bologna sandwiches wrapped in napkins to take to Betty who was watching their belongings. They had just turned the block when they noticed police cars and an ambulance at their homeless community of cardboard shelters and plastic tarps. Thomas hesitated. Police were cracking down on the homeless communities in Louisville. He was fearful they had, once again, lost all their belongings. But, that wasn’t the case this time. They saw someone being loaded into an ambulance that had turned off it’s siren and lights. That’s a bad sign. A worse sign was a sheet over the head of whoever it was on the stretcher. Thomas asked one of the men standing by who it was. “That was Miss Betty. She had been feeling tired and sickly for about a week now. One of the ambulance guys said she had a heart attack. She’s dead,”said the man. Thomas was stunned. He had just spoken to her just 30 minutes prior to their leaving. And now, she was dead. “Is Miss Betty gonna be awright, Thomas?” asked Jack. Thomas looked at his frightened little friend and said, “No, Jack, she isn’t alright. She’s dead, my friend. She’s not coming back.” That didn’t seem to have any effect on Jack. “Well, let’s keep her sandwiches warm just in case she does come back, Thomas.” Thomas smiled at his little friend and reflected at how death can come quickly among the homeless. A common cold is nothing for those in the normal world. But, among the homeless, it can be a death sentence. Or, as in the case of Miss Betty who had no health checkups, something minor could turn into something major. Such is life in the homeless world of sickness, disease and death.