The other day I was driving down the street. To my right I saw a navy blue umbrella tilted on its side on the edge of the road. Upon further inspection I saw that there was an elderly woman underneath it.
She had made herself a bed and was curled up laying on her side. She had a makeshift pillow under her head. Her things, sacks of stuff, surrounded her.
For a moment I wondered why she chose to be imperiled on the side of a road where she could easily get run over. Just beyond the road was a Kwik Trip where they sell gasoline and snacks.
Ah, they probably didn’t want the homeless erecting their temporary homes in their parking lots, I thought.
I went through the McDonalds drive thru across the street from the Kwik Trip. When I paid I asked the woman taking my money if the woman slept there. She said, “Yeah, she’s always there.”
So they’d grown accustomed to the sight of her.
As I sat in line in my car I saw a man walk up to the woman and kneel down to talk to her. Maybe he was telling her about a shelter. Or giving her money. Or telling her to move on.
Whatever it was, he got up and went on about his business. And the umbrella home with the woman underneath it remained in place.
I thought about this driving home. What it might be like to inhabit such a flimsy structure.
I notice every day that the streets are filling up with more and more homeless people.
People who can no longer pay their rent or mortgage because they’ve lost their jobs. Those who have gone through what money they had and hit rock bottom.
Sometimes I see a couple making their way together, dividing their belongings between them. At other times I see a dog laying next to a person holding a sign. Someone pleading for help at the side of a road.
In these uncertain times, there is no longer a moral ambiguity about these people taking to the street. It isn’t because they are alcoholics or drug addicts that they met this fate.
One day things were fine and they had a paycheck and regularly paid their rent. The next day the bottom fell out and the landlord would no longer take excuses and evicted them.
Federal and state eviction bans, put in place during COVID-19, have lapsed.
The legislative branches are arguing over proposals and one body is pitted against another. But time isn’t standing still while people wait for some sort of aid.
These people still have to face the end of the month without their rent payment in hand.
They have to figure out what food they can put on the table today to feed their children.
Desperation is fueling a steep decline in mental health.
Will we see more and more umbrellas dotting the landscape?
When the shelters fill up, will there be someone standing outside them handing out umbrellas to the less fortunate?
Could we be driving by and see someone we know underneath one of the umbrella homes?
Or could our own fortunes change and that person be one of us?