Today I found myself under a bridge in near downtown Indianapolis*, my lungs burned with the cold. Winter hadn’t quite set in, but a severe cold snap was letting us know it was around the corner and we needed to make preparations. A lot of people have asked what goes on when people talk about Day Street. I will try to paint a picture of a typical day.

Outreach, Inc, as I’ve written about before, works with homeless and at risk youth and was the inspiration behind my series, The Knights of Breton Court. One of the things they do is called day street, where they go out and look for potential clients, check in on current clients, and basically serves as research for night street (because it’s always better to be familiar with the lay of the land when stomping through them at night).

The day began with Johnny Teater hunched over his keyboard, a paen to multi-tasking: doing some of the endless copious paperwork that comes with the job while arguing on the phone with his gym about his workout appointment. Kristin Fuller comes bouncing in, far, far too perky for any morning. We** grab a handful of peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars and in an especially Holy Spirit led move, we began at Calvin Fletchers coffee shop to get our caffeine on where we plan that day’s activities.

We begin with a check in on one of the current clients. The cold cut through my clothes and I was layered like that little boy in the Bob Gregory weather commercials from back in the day. But even wearing a hat, scarf, and gloves, I am frozen to my core. And I wasn’t sleeping outside, exposed to the elements.

We parked at a local tourist area and then crossed the main street in order to go under the bridge. Once again, we encounter Johnny’s arch-nemesis:
Thing is, there are several folks who stay in this area. Some live within the bridge structure itself and others live further down the embankment. I take pictures of some of the graffiti because this too provides information.
For example, we can see when gang tags start popping up and what gangs might be operating in the area. Gangs are an additional complication on the streets, a threat to any who are squatting in their territory. Also, when we stumble upon a squat, we have to differentiate between a squat where people are staying and a “party squat”, where folks congregate to have a good time.

Further down the embankment, we come across the dwelling of the clients. It is a makeshift tent, layered with plastic and blankets. We check on them, make sure they know about their various appointments, and see what assistance they need. Thing is, helping the homeless isn’t just a matter of bringing them food and blankets. In order to transition them off the streets, relationships and trust have to be built. If for no other reason than to assess what their specific needs are and what stumbling blocks they have due to their situation.

Our next stop is the Indianapolis Public Library. As always, and I mean always, we start fussing about who was supposed to bring change for the parking meters. The library is a well known spot where homeless people hang out (thus I can talk directly about it). Besides being a safe place from the cold, many homeless spend time there reading or killing time on the computers. The staff is wonderful, not only treating everyone fairly, but also being an invaluable resource.

Continued tomorrow

*I have to be vague: when I had a column for Intake Weekly, I used to write specifically about where the homeless congregated. In my naivete thinking maybe if folks knew where folks were in need, they would do something about it. The city ended up clearing out those squats (because sweeping out the “problem” is JUST like actually dealing with them).

**I’m like the bard of Outreach Inc. I run behind them and sing of their great deeds. Currently I’m working on “The Ballad of Brave Sir Teater”.