the long walk home 04

So . . .

Some years back, I met two women who had spent the previous night in DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center), which is a shelter — among other things — in downtown Seattle.

One of the women was in a wheelchair. The other one helped her. As I remember it, they had arrived in town late at night, needed a place to stay and were directed to DESC. At DESC, they were each given a bed. DESC had bunk beds, and the woman in the wheelchair got a bottom bunk and her friend got a top bunk, but not in the same bunk. The friend helped the woman get ready for bed, then went off to her own bunk.

The woman in the wheelchair woke up suddenly in the wee hours of the morning. Something was pulling at her feet. She propped herself up, and found herself looking right into the eyes of a woman at the foot of her bed. Oh. It wasn’t something pulling at her feet; it was someone. It was someone trying to steal her shoes. Which, rightly so, were still on her feet. (By the way, should you ever find yourself in certain shelters, it’s best to not only sleep with your shoes on your feet, but tied, and then tied to each other. This can make for some very exciting middle-of-the-night bathroom trips, but these trips will be much less exciting than walking city streets in your socks, say, in winter. Sailors learn all kind of knots. They probably never wake up shoeless in Seattle.)

For a moment, she and the thief just looked at each other. Then the thief resumed her efforts to pull the shoes off the disabled woman’s feet. The disabled woman began kicking her feet to discourage the thief’s efforts, and eventually made enough noise and fuss that the thief went away and the shoes stayed. Not that shelter staff heard anything, came by and chased the thief off, mind you. Just that the thief realized it might get to that point, and left. The thief could always try again in an hour or two, after the woman went back to sleep. They had allllllllllll night.

Well, not really. The disabled woman was distressed. And sufficiently motivated by the incident, she maneuvered herself back into her wheelchair (which had not been stolen yet), then rolled the aisles, searching for her friend in one of the top bunks. DESC had more than a hundred bunk beds at the time, distributed throughout large rooms. The disabled woman didn’t know where her friend was. The plan had been for her able-bodied friend to find her in the morning, not the other way around.

You know, bunk beds tend to look the same at 2am in dim lighting when you’re in a hurry. And can’t stand up. It took awhile, but she finally found her friend, woke her up and shared what had happened. They decided to leave immediately, and got dressed and made their way to the exit. DESC had a strict curfew at the time. 4pm. (Yes. 4pm. In by 4pm, and you could not leave until the next day. They made allowances for people who worked late. Some shelters don’t. Yes, you heard that right. Some shelters have a strict early curfew, whether you work or not.) At the exit, the staff person admonished them, letting them know that yes, they could leave, “but…” the person said “… if you do, you can’t ever come back here.”

The women both looked at each other, looked back at the staff person, and said in unison, “You promise?”

27. October 2013 by sojourner hardeman
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