Published: January 11, 2012
There are reams of paper files upstairs for every single person who's passed through the doors. "We are still real old school," Harris says, showing a 2-inch-thick file. "Clients will have us keep their birth certificates or their Social Security cards, and I think that's a big reason why we haven't gotten away from the paper files, because this is like mom's house for a lot of people. It's like their safe deposit boxes."
Though the homeless will often float between different agencies in town depending on what they need on a given day, some grow attached to Crossroads because of all that's offered under one roof. Recently, the county morgue called Harris to say they found a homeless person dead in the street. She got the call because the one piece of ID he had on him was his Crossroads card. "We hadn't seen him in about 10 years," she says. "But he still had our card in his wallet."
Jesse Travis, 30, walks meekly into the soup kitchen. "Where do I sign up for the food?" he asks Richardson. It's his first time here.
"No, you just get a ticket," Richardson replies, giving him one. He looks relieved that it's this easy.
It's noon. The door has just opened and the line has moved inside. Long white tables offer space for 175 people to sit and eat. But there are usually plenty of seats open, since most clients seem to prefer takeout, wandering back into the cold to eat somewhere alone.
Travis chooses to stay, takes the chili and a ham and cheese sandwich served today, sits alone and eats while looking around, curiously. A friend tipped him off to these Sunday lunches.
He's open about his circumstances. "I have a mental disability," he says, matter-of-factly. "I receive Social Security disability every month but it's not enough to cover my bills, not enough to cover all my expenses, so I came here." He had attended a good college, held a great job, then a bad breakup with a girlfriend when he was 20 years old led to him hearing voices and seeing things, he says. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
"Life just went downhill from there," he says. "A lot of my life has been lost because I've been focusing mostly on my illness."
Loss like his defines the lives of those in line — loss of their job, or their home, or their sanity. Loss, somehow, of their old life. The causes are different but the effect is the same — a shared inability to afford something as basic to life as a meal. That common fate brings them together here, at a place that offers each of them just about any kind of help to rise out of this life.
After a couple of hours the line finally dwindles. The volunteers grab bowls of soup and sit with those who they just served, those who but for a few wrong choices or turns of bad fortune, turn out to be not that different from them.
"So many people come down and say they realize they have way more in common with the people that we serve than they ever thought," Harris says. "You know, we all kind of want the same things — everybody wants to be able to provide for themselves, and we have a lot of the same values. We think that we're coming down to serve them, but we have a lot more in common with the poor than we'd like to admit."
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