I sat down with my turkey/egg salad sandwich and cup of "everything but the kitchen sink" soup. I was at Washington Street Methodist's Soup Cellar. They serve lunch to the homeless and anyone else that shows up from 10:45am-noon. You don't have a "homeless I. D. card." I say that because I'm told construction workers show up for lunch sometimes. Before this experience I would have thought they're abusing the system. Now, not so much. Many of the men at Oliver Gospel are homeless and saving money where they can to get in their own home.
I'm at a table full of men. Most of them part of the community homeless, those who have been homeless for years and will be for years to come. Although some show up in ties, ready for that next job interview.
Wayne is to my left. We're packed in so tight our shoulders are touching. How can you not talk to someone when you're that close?
"You want my soup?" I ask. Wayne says no and in the same breath tells me you won't go hungry in Columbia. "They take care of you here." He wonders if that's why so many of the homeless show up here from all over the state. He rattles off several spots to get a free meal other than Washington Street UMC. I'm already feeling guilty for taking someone's lunch here so I'm only half-listening to the numerous lunch spots.
"You lookin' for work?"
"I'm a painter and no one's hiring painters right now."
He says if I'm looking for work I should try Columbia Farms, the chicken processing plant so many of the homeless end up. Wayne fills me in as to why they go there.
"They don't check backgrounds."
"You have one?" I ask.
"Just got out. 4 years."
"Sexual offense. I don't plan to start looking until I get my monitor off."
I don't care to know which specific sexual offense Wayne is talking about.
About that time anyway Wayne's buddy across from us says "it used to be you lost your job there was another one waiting for you. Not like that anymore."
"What's it gonna take?"
"Well, the answer's not in politics."
Wayne and his buddy offer no other solutions. I don't blame them.
I start thinking of the many "promises" made by elected leaders and candidates on the jobless issue. Sitting here in this soup cellar with all these people I can't help but think of how "empty" and "disconnected" some of these public office holders sound. They may benefit from a lunch date with a homeless, jobless convicted sex offender in a soup cellar in downtown Columbia.
"I'll see you around" I say to the guys.