It seems like lifestyle bloggers come in three flavors: 1) Cute, hip DIY crafts featuring cute, sometimes quirky young women and their magazine-ready homes and beautiful lush photography 2) Coupons, flash sales, giveaways, and mostly corporate-sponsored posts; 3) Christian homeschoolers who primarily feature recipes and frugal living advice. Blue Collar, Black Tie doesn’t really fall into any of those categories, and definitely this post does not.
We live near a busy intersection on “the wrong side of town”, and the alley behind our home is frequented by homeless people, drug dealers, prostitutes, and folks who patronize one of the two problem liquor stores within 30 yards. When we moved in 14 years ago, somebody told us we were “urban pioneers,” the first wave of new residents in a depressed area who prepare the way for the inevitable gentrification. We’ve seen tremendous improvement in the neighborhood, but there’s still a long way to go.
Before you ask, yes, it is dangerous to answer the door every time someone knocks looking for a handout. And yet, we do.
Jimmy first knocked on our door about a year after we moved in, asking if he could cut our grass in exchange for bus money. Over the last 13 years, he has done yard work and helped with some repair and maintenance projects. He has come in various states of sobriety and stages of homelessness. When things were good, he slept on the sofa of a relative and picked up odd jobs. Sometimes he dropped by, asked for nothing, but treated us to a private cornet concert.
When things were not so good, he staggered to the door late at night smelling of urine and alcohol. In addition to money, I make him a couple of sandwiches and give him fresh fruit which he stuffs in the pocket of his coat. I have never been afraid of him or believed he would ever harm me or my children, nevertheless we have kept our relationship confined primarily to the front porch, and I have never offered him a place to sleep in my home.
When he returns from longer absences, sometimes it’s because he was in rehab, or jail, or in Mississippi visiting family. Noticeably absent for almost nine months, he dropped by this week. A veteran of the Army, he goes to the VA hospital for medical services.
Last fall, someone at the VA enrolled him in the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) and drove him to a local community college and helped him enroll. At the age of 59, Jimmy just completed his first semester at Riverside Community College. He doesn’t think he did well in his English class, but he enjoyed his Music Theory class. A street musician who plays by ear, he’s learning to read music.
For the first time in all the years we’ve known him, Jimmy has an apartment of his own. With tears in his eyes and a voice quavering with emotion, he described his beautiful apartment located in a building for seniors. The joy of simple things. Clean bathrooms. When you have known homelessness, even if you have spent time traveling to the sofas and floors of family members, simple things, like washing, drying, and putting away YOUR dish in YOUR cabinet is deeply moving.
I don’t know whether or not this is a permanent change for Jimmy, but I hope so and I’m going to look at it this experience as a reminder that you are never old to make a fresh start.