A friend of mine has a rule when buying a house. Sure, he does the whole viewing thing with the realtor, but he goes back to the house at night, parks his care, and watches the neighborhood. His reasoning is quite simple: Every city has a shadow self.

It was an October night like many others, although there was a frost warning for that night. Outreach, Inc. was doing one of their “street” nights where they go around the city looking for homeless youth to offer them services. The first place we stopped was a place dubbed the Hispanic railroad because of the high Hispanic population typically found there.

A scree of rocks led up to the railroad tracks used to get to the black-tarped rooftop. Several soft spots, unsure whether they would hold our weight, mined the warehouse roof used to squat. Moldy sleeping bags, rugs, and crocheted blankets became doors to block the biting wind. A soldier and his wife been on the roof for a couple of weeks. The soldier was due to be shipped out any day now. He wouldn’t be the only veteran we’d encounter that night.

In the shadow of downtown’s buildings.

Next we went to West Street and Kentucky Avenue to “The Tubes.” Torn up quarry remains lined a path down the bank of the White River. There we would find concrete tubes as houses with sheets of plastic as doors. The scene would be repeated at the McCarty Street Bridge and the Washing ton Street Bridge, with the tresses used like small apartments, quiet places where folks could stay warm.

There’s a perception that the poor want to live like this, that they are there because they are lazy or are there strictly as the result of their choices. The reality is that most want to transition out of the streets, from this way of life, but they were let down, if not abandoned, by the system. These are the forgotten, making use of anything and any space to stay warm and form a semblance of a life.

All in the shadow of downtown.