Between the pandemic shutdown in early March, to my departure May 1, I took calls complaining about the homeless in Seminary Park here in Bloomington.
"They're not practicing social distancing," was the most common.
"Why doesn't the city give them masks?"
"They're almost of top of each other."
And this on the first beautiful spring day: "It's almost like they're celebrating."
How what kind of person begrudges the smallest thing to someone chronically homeless?
Most of those in Seminary Park have so little in life they can fit in the ever-present backpacks. They shuttle from shelter to park to Shalom Center or Community Kitchen.
What those folks seek with each other is simple bonding over shared situation. Something every human wants and needs.
The most public of the homeless are the people in the park and fall into the most difficult of the four categories -- chronically homeless, usually of a year or more. I've taken calls and emails who say that's an easy life, free meals, passing of the bottle and the ability to sleep all day. Here's a secret, though, Laura Lane's stories have shown through years of coverage. The chronically homeless sleep during the day because after dark is when the boogie man comes around. Where what few belongings they have might be stolen. Laura Lane talked to one guy who decamped from the park to a tent behind the Herald-Times because all of his important personal items -- Social Security car, birth certificate -- had been stolen and he could longer prove his identity.
The next category is episodic, a person who is homeless more than once, whether because of occasional job loss, substance abuse or being kicked out of the home.
I'm in the third category -- transitional. Because of my failure to look for permanent housing for 10 months and then getting laid off, I'm transitioning from place to another. It's probably the easiest of the circumstances, at least for me as I have the blessings of a little savings and many wonderful friends.
The final category is the hidden homeless. That is for folks who couch surf between family members and friends. They don't have a permanent place to lay their heads at night. It's among the hardest of help of groups because they are truly hidden.
We recently followed the case of one of the first COVID-19 patients in the region. He went by the nickname Uncle Dirt and was couch surfing with a number of friends and family in Owen County. When he became sick, he was taken to IU health here in Bloomington. Thankfully, Uncle Dirt survived but when it came time for him to check out, he refused. He and doctors disagreed on whether he was well. Plus, I suspect that was good living for Uncle Dirt. Pretty nurses cleaning him up and having good food delivered. So hospital security hoisted him up and set him down on the sidewalk out front. His friends didn't want a COVID patient back in their homes so he had to find shelter in Bloomington.
His is a brittle life.
Remember, for each homeless person -- and Bloomington has averaged about 335 homeless people over the last several years -- there is a singular story as to what led them to where they are.
While they are homeless, they are first and foremost people.