By Mischa Ledder: Editor's Note: Mischa Ledder is taking a step to connect our community by reaching out and to connect, talk and maybe feature local Fort Collins people. Read below and get to know her philosophy.
There are a vast number of diverse individuals that create our community. The homeless are among them and most have been ostracized. Yet, we can make strides to give them back their voices. If we take the time to know them, we will see they are unique and have much to offer society. I wanted to put names to the faces of many individuals who are homeless in our city, so I set out to interview those that would agree.
I was hesitant as I approached Ronny in front of the Fort Collins Rescue Mission. He was lying on a bench, his head propped up by an old green army bag containing all his possessions. His hand stroked his robust grey and white beard. He was my second interview of the day and though the initial engagement never got less awkward, it was worth it for the connection. Within minutes Ronny opened up and shared his story. He painted a picture for me of what the homeless go through on a day to day basis. I was taken back by how loving this man was. He had every reason to be calloused and cold, but there was a tenderness that remained.
Ronny is a seventy-one-year-old Veteran. During the war, he lost his left lung after being shot and returned home. His story is a little different than most. He gets disability checks and Social Security, but due to the high housing cost in Fort Collins, he cannot afford an apartment. Instead, he is generous and gives what he has to help others who are homeless. Being homeless wasn’t always his reality. He lived in Fort Collins thirty-eight years before his wife drank herself to death. His son, who was renting a house to them asked Ronny to leave after her death, so he did.
“Boredom, I am bored to death and want a job to have some kind of purpose. I’m just existing, it’s not living, it’s just existing.”
While talking to him, it was clear he was still deeply grieving his wife’s death. For eight years now, he has been homeless. He doesn’t want to be in the situation he is in, but he doesn’t know how to get out. “Boredom, I am bored to death and want a job to have some kind of purpose. I’m just existing, it’s not living, it’s just existing.” Many obstacles stand in the way of getting a job. Ronny stated he’s old and doesn’t know who would hire someone his age. Then there is transportation. He would have no means to get to a job. If he got a job, would he daily carry all his possessions in with him? What if he couldn’t get a shower in beforehand? We joked about Meals on Wheels and he said, “start a Job on Wheels.” It’s not a bad idea. Resources are needed to help the homeless find and apply for jobs and then get to these jobs. The thing is, many homeless individuals want jobs.
There are organizations that provide resources for the homeless. Ronny often stays the night at Fort Collins Rescue Mission. They have 102 mats for people to sleep on. It is not comfortable, but is necessary when nights get too cold or wet. Ronny stated, “If you end up next to someone who snores, it’s a brutal night. You can’t sleep.” Catholic Charities also offers shelter with real beds that have a mattress. The other night, Ronny fell asleep in a chapel, and was woken up by water being thrown on him, He was asked to leave. There was great pain in his voice as he said, “It’s the house of the Lord. Out of all places they should accept me. I should have been allowed there.” I couldn’t help but agree. Jesus is very clear on his call to care for those in need. The church has a responsibility to take more action. Ronny also was grieved that Hobo Park had been taken over by Union restaurant. He claimed they were pushing the homeless out and taking the only space they had to sleep and hang out in during the day.
I talked to Ronny for quite some time. One of my last questions was about the holidays, seeing Christmas is right around the corner. I wanted to know what they were like for someone who was homeless. He said he couldn’t answer. “One day is the same as the next. I don’t consider them holidays. They are just another day.” Holidays are not something the homeless have. Ronny missed Halloween too. He missed having kids come to his house, missed see them in their costumes. He said, “It’s not like kids would ever come to the corner.” He was referring to the street corner in front of the Fort Collins Rescue Mission, his stomping ground. I laughed as I imagined it being a possibility, but doubted any parent would jump on board with that idea.
“One day is the same as the next. I don’t consider them holidays. They are just another day.”
It’s easy to see the more obvious commodities the homeless do not have, but harder to see the smaller, more personal details, like grieving and not getting to see kids come to your door for Halloween anymore. Having no phone to call your son and say hello, having no concept of the term “holiday,” wanting to find purpose in work, but being ill equipped to take the first step, and not getting to indulge in something like your favorite candy bar. Ronny’s favorite candy bar is a U-No bar. I had never heard of it until I met him. His favorite cigarettes are Winston Red 100s.
Maybe before we walk past the homeless, we can take five minutes to sit next to them and learn what their favorites are and then go get one for them. One act of kindness can impact a person deeply, while inspiring others to do the same. We all have those moments we remember when someone took the time and really made us feel seen and loved. Maybe we can start viewing the homeless as people and not just a charity case. Maybe we can be the mediator in helping them get a job. We are a community, and even if we have little to give, we can use it build up those surrounding us. Make the homeless feel seen and heard. Even if it is just a smile instead of walking past them avoiding eye contact. Be kind and get creative not just for the holiday season, but beyond.