Did you know there are 8,000 homeless people in Maricopa County? So said the Arizona Republic on Friday. Not only that, the number of homeless families has increased 27% in the past year. When I read that, I shook my head and said a thankful prayer that David and I have a roof over our heads. Later that day I came face to face with one of the 8,000.
In the parking lot of Wal-Mart, I met Tara. A tall, very pretty young woman with a backpack, she approached us and politely asked if we had any spare change. When I said yes, she looked astonished. “Really?” she asked. As I handed her a dollar, she got tears in her eyes. I asked if she was all right and she nodded silently. Then she said she had been out there most of the day and we were the first people that had seen her as a human being.
We know what that’s like, so we stood and talked awhile. We learned she was 22 and six months pregnant. Because she refused to have an abortion, her boyfriend had kicked her out and she had been homeless about two months. She said she never expected to be homeless. She’d been to a couple of emergency shelters but actually felt less safe there than she did on the streets. She was “camping” with a group of about 10 homeless people, mostly couples, who looked after each other. They were sleeping behind a large warehouse. The owners let them stay and didn’t bother them. The rats, she said, were the problem. There were a lot of rats. There were also some pallets and they stacked them into a platform to allow them to sleep higher than the rats. That helped. She described it calmly and reminded me of the way I describe a strip search. She was used to it. Funny what we can get used to.
Tara and a girlfriend, also pregnant, were trying to collect enough money for a motel room for the night so they could have a shower and a really goodnight’s sleep. I pulled out my cell phone and started calling my connections with shelters. Tara looked on impassively. She explained that she had been through this already. She was homeless and pregnant BUT she wasn’t an addict nor was she a victim of domestic violence. There are many homes that will take addicts or abused women, but none that just take a pretty, articulate, intelligent, pregnant homeless woman. I looked at the lovely face of this very young woman and I felt I was looking at the bravest person I’d ever met. Many people can’t imagine what prison is like. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be pregnant and sleeping on a pallet behind a warehouse.
Tara was right. Despite my many calls, I could find no one to help her. In the end, we gave her enough money for the two young women to get their motel room. I also gave her my card and asked her to let me know how she was doing. Again, she remarked that we had “seen” her as a person and so I explained GINA’s Team and how I came to know Gina in prison. David and I told her we knew what it was like to be invisible. Gratefully she asked, “Could I call you sometime, just to talk?” I said I hoped she would. Somehow I felt a connection to Tara and hope I will see her again. If not, she is in my prayers. There are too many Tara’s. Please remember her and all the other 8,000 homeless. They need more than prayers, they need help desperately. I wish I knew the answer. I don’t. I am just posing the question.