Here in downtown Covington, we live with a lot of people who are in and out of homeless shelters. Plus, my wife’s job is to write about homelessness, poverty and social justice issues for a local television station. So it’s a topic at every dinner upstairs and at our storefront’s door everyday downstairs.
When we lived in the wealthier suburb of Fort Mitchell, I never answered the front door (our doorbell broke about 1998, and I never fixed it to achieve bliss). It was always someone trying to sell me wrapping paper or mulch. Or it was a political candidate or religious zealot – also selling something.
But here in Covington, I try to always open the door when it’s knocked. Sometimes it’s people looking for the upholstery shop one block down, or someone wondering what the heck we do here. And sometimes it’s someone who needs something. They might be experiencing homelessness, they might not.
I try not to judge. To some people, I look homeless. Last week I walked to Klingenberg’s hardware store to buy some glue, and I had two people stop me and direct me to the soup kitchen on Pike Street.
“Better hurry,” one said. “Today is hamburger day!”
For the most part, the visitors need some change for the bus, some toilet paper or to borrow a tool. We’re happy to help when we can. What is surprising is how often the visitor is there to help us. One guy gave us some rusted F-style clamps he found in an alley. Another woman, one of the prostitutes, found the car keys that a drywaller had dropped while doing some work for me.
A few months ago, a guy with no teeth began knocking at the door. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in a long time. On the way to the door I picked up the jar of change we keep for these occasions. I opened the door, looked him in the eye and said “Hi!”
“I think you lost this,” he said, holding up an engineer’s square. It was a little rusted, but was still in good shape. I told him it wasn’t mine.
“Someone dropped it out here in the gutter,” he said. “It looks too nice to be trash.”
I thought it might belong to one of our students, so I took it and thanked him.
We checked with the students who had attended recent classes – no one had lost a square. I checked the square for accuracy. It is dead-on ISO 9009 perfectly perfect. So I keep it in our machine room. Every time I pick it up it’s a small reminder to stay human, to keep opening our front door and that the first Tuesday of the month is hamburger day.
— Christopher Schwarz