“Wearing two hats” meant something very different for Keith than it does for me. Breakfast was over and many of the guests were getting ready to leave the church hall. I saw Keith out of the corner of my eye. I was actually trying to make a picture of the dishwasher standing nearby. Keith had just put on one of those dark blue Navy watch caps. Then without hesitation he pulled another one over the first. For a second this seemed strange to me but then “I got it”. This was about survival. When you are on the street it’s about staying warm. This man was preparing for a cold day in Providence.
Jack Jones, the good pastor of the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, had just deposited a large donation of clothing on a big table. Men and women were crowded around the pile, sorting through and trying things on. Vincent wheeled in and began hunting for a coat. I asked if I could take his picture and he agreed. He was a big man with a patch over one eye, cheerful in spite of his disability. He told me he was a vet, but he said he didn’t lose his lower left leg in the war and left it at that. He told me he could always use more clothing because “winter was coming.”
As I was leaving the church I noticed an elderly woman with long white hair standing near the stairs. She was wrapped up in a large pink blanket. Her long white hair streamed out of a comical yellow ski cap with a pom-pom on top. I asked if I could take her picture but she politely refused. We chatted a bit and I asked her age by volunteering mine. She smiled and said she was a little younger than me. Maybe, but in any case she, like I, are in the “senior citizen” category. She told me she was homeless. She said this blanket and hat were “to stay warm”. She told me she spent last winter living in a green plastic tent of some sort. I just couldn’t imagine this woman living like this… in America?
On the way home I reflected on how the homeless people must dread the coming cold. One reads about it every winter as an abstraction… temperature drops, homeless people desperate for a warm place to stay the night, shelters full, etc., etc. Here however, at this church, for these people, staying warm is very real.
I’m thinking I will go through my closet today and see if there are some things I can part with this winter. Jonnycake accepts clothing donations…