The line for dinner starts to form at 4:15 outside Oliver Gospel Mission. Maybe you've seen it from your car as your stopped at the light at Taylor and Assembly? All the men in a single file line waiting to get inside for a free meal. Does it make your heart break? I'll admit it. I've looked from my car window and thought "that is sad. I feel for them" After tonight, my feelings are altered a bit. Not to take away from many of these men's struggle to get back to work and back on their feet, but "sad" is not exactly how I would characterize the mood in the dinner line and definitely not in the cafeteria. Spirited conversations about the Super Bowl. "Pat's are gonna win!" Others talk about what food is being served. The guy in front of me says to another man: "when I get on my own again, I'll get my own cast iron skillet to make fried chicken and biscuits." Not exactly a line you'd expect from a guy without a home.
One man, must be in his 20s, is worried he won't get in touch with his girlfriend before he's in for the night. "Where's your girlfriend" I ask. "Fiance" he says. "Where's your fiancé?" I ask. "She's over in Transitions." "When are y'all getting married?" I ask. "Just as soon as we can" he says. Being a men's shelter, the talk tends to lean towards the topic of "women." Many sentences start with..."there's this woman I'm seein'..." or "me and my girl..." or "this woman that lives over in this high rise..." It all falls in line with what I was told by a former homeless man, Donald, and a social worker at Oliver Gospel. They say when men find themselves in situations like this, they want to be desired by anyone, women especially. Sort of "I may be jobless, I may be homeless, I may not have a penny to my name, but women still want me." For these men, it's important for them to portray that image. Come to think of it, I guess that's not too far from our "reality" either.
Baked chicken, rice and gravy, white beans, corn/peas, apple sauce, bread, sweet tea is on the menu. I was told ahead of times the cooks at OGM are "gourmet chefs." And that is no joke. The food is delicious. And after missing out on lunch, I'm famished. While eating, many of the men keep to themselves. I was told these men are the "newly homeless" the ones in the Hand Up Program. They are a bit ashamed to be in this situation. Doing everything and anything to get out of the shelter and on their own. Some of them have jobs. Just not enough money yet to have their own place. On the otherhand, the "community homeless" or "chronically homeless" are talkative and sociable. They all know each other and sharing stories.