Continuing my thoughts from yesterday, it’s amazing how little I know about my own city of 30+ years. It’s like the city has an entire side to it that we don’t realize is there. A learned invisibility as we’ve trained ourselves to not to see the homeless. We don’t want to stare out of “politeness”. We try to not make direct eye contact for fear of being hit up for change. We roll up our windows or lock our car doors when they get too near to our cars. It was on another day of day street with Outreach, Inc where this lesson was truly driven home.

We were in another area, almost literally in the shadow of downtown Indianapolis, investigating the rumor of a new squat. We had stopped to talk to a homeless gentleman who was living under a bridge. While talking to him, he told us of a place where kids were known to congregate. So we went off to investigate. Now, to be straight, this day was miserable. Not only was it cold, but it raining, a constant drizzle which soaked us.

We crossed over the bridge and down a path through the trees which blocked the view from the main street. Gray slate rocks covered the railroad tracks we soon crossed over. Their slick surface nearly twisting our ankles as we slipped across them. A thick grove of overgrown branches formed a wall on the other side of the tracks, but careful examination revealed a slight pathway.

Someone had been here. Towels and pairs of short were half buried in the mud as if a makeshift welcome mat into the home. An action figure of the X-Men villain, Pyro, hung from a tree. Two steps into the underbrush and I was covered in brambles and burrs. The thick copse of trees opened up into a clearing. A burgundy car seat sat next to a vinyl green chair as if they had been arranged in someone’s living room.

Collected bags of trash, though some of which had been scattered by animals, walled off one end of the site. A discarded set of book shelves held a flashlight with a hand crank and several candles. A milk crate was on either end of the encampment, covered with toilet seats. One had a grocery bag lining, the other was supported by two by fours over a hole. It’s difficult to convey the mix of emotions in seeing the scene. The sense of squalor, though in some ways, you admire the ingenuity.

We hoped this was a party squat, with the amount of Cobra, Magnum 40, and Miller Lite bottles we found. But we made a note to come back and check on the site a few more times to see how active it was.

Damp and itchy from burrs we went off to the next location. We had been hearing tales of a tent city down by the river, with conflicting reports of it being a ministry or self-run by homeless men, but some clients had stayed there so we decided to investigate. Our initial foray was at night during a night street, but wiser heads prevailed in not traipsing into the woods late at night [read: “Johnny, hopefully I’m not the only black friend you have. But let me tell you right now, no amount of words is going to get me into these strange and unfamiliar woods late at night. I’ve seen how this movie ends.”].

By day, we found the site easily. At the time, only one gentleman was present, but the other tents were clearly in active use with everyone else gone for the day. Turns out the tent city was part of a quasi-ministry, one which still left us with many questions. But that’s a discussion for another day.
But there you have it. A typical couple of days of what happens while on day street. In the end, it’s about finding and meeting the teens where they are and building relationships as their needs are met. It is hard and emotionally taxing work which is one reason I admire these folks so much.

And keep them in my prayers.