When your job requires you to keep your shoes dirty, avoid florescent lighting and develop a nascent tolerance for mosquitoes and cockroaches, you pay a lot of attention to the weather. This week New Orleans has been sucker punched with the outer rain bands from the first hurricane of the 2010 season. Hurricane Alex is just now coming ashore on the Texas/Mexico border, but its effects are being felt some 600 miles away. The cool relief of 75 degrees is overshadowed by the frequent downpours that have stymied our outreach efforts, saturated the outreach van’s carpet, and scrambled our homeless. But it’s not all bad.
Tomorrow, I’m hoping it storms. I hope it rains so hard the streets flood, the lights flicker and that damn hole in the bottle of my outreach boots makes my feet so wet I can feel the wrinkles. Rain would be best. It would keep Trent in his squat. At noon tomorrow, Trent needs to go see the doctor. He’s missed two appointments already; or rather, I couldn’t find him for the two appointments. It’s not like Trent’s checking his outlook calendar for his next social engagement or following UNITY Outreach’s twitter. If it rains, Mr. Trent might have to cancel his daily rendezvous with the neighborhood dope man. Not surprisingly, Mr. Dope Man doesn’t like to work in torrential downpours; it’s bad for product and messes up his sneakers. As my shoes already have a hole in them, his loss is my gain.
Clinically, Mr. Trent has a little problem with what is called behavioral insight. It might be the mental retardation or the paranoid schizophrenia. It might also be his particularly nasty habit of breaking crack rocks down with Kool Aid and injecting the mix into his forearm. His preferred method of intoxication, while it does quiet the screaming voices in his head, also tends to open up abscesses, leaving his body a minefield of puss-oozing sores. As Mr. Trent has the I.Q. of a toddler, I don’t think he’s exactly practicing hygienic methods of wound care. It might also be a little hard keeping clean considering he uses a bucket as his toilet and wipes himself with whatever newspaper he picked out of the garbage. But if it rains, things change.
Instead of battling the ravages of organic mental illness or the pull of addiction or the deficiencies of intellect, my opposition is different. I’m not fighting the elements of poverty-stricken neighborhoods or the destruction of psycho-pathology; I’m fighting Mother Nature. Sometimes you don’t need almost a decade of homeless service experience or an overpriced master’s degree to get things done. Sometimes you just need a raincoat.
If all goes according to plans, at noon tomorrow I’ll find myself crawling through a rotting old convenience store wall, carefully stepping over discarded hypodermic needles, walking past the putrid bucket and towards the mattress in the back. With rain pounding on the decaying walls and blowing in through the broken windows, I’ll shine my flashlight on a half-naked 135-pound man-child named Trent. It will be a short conversation. I’ll tell Trent we have to take his next step to get housed, to appease the bureaucrats with the right signatures so he gets approved for housing. It will be one more step in ending the thunderstorm of Trent’s homelessness. Housing can be an umbrella.