This Morning at The Bridge

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I might’ve talked about this before. If I have, I apologize.

Actually, you know what? I take that back. I’m not at all sorry. Somehow, this conversation seems to be dying, and that’s just not okay.

This morning, L. and I helped prepare and serve breakfast at The Bridge, a day shelter for people experiencing homelessness. I’ve spent time in The Bridge’s kitchen, off and on, for more than 10 years, and I’ve had the honor of meeting and getting to know some of the most remarkable people in that space. (I’m looking at you, Tom F.)

This morning wasn’t much different from most: I cracked a gazillion-and-a-half eggs, I rolled silverware (Do plastic sporks count as silverware?), and I fretted over making sure each tray had similar portion sizes. The dining room was warmer than usual, a gift to Bridge guests who stayed outside last night. I smiled and offered “G’mornings” to everyone with whom I made eye contact. I gratefully heaped on second helpings, and I grinned conspiratorially as L. allowed guests to choose their piece of fruit and sweet roll. (Which is against the rules.) (Which is ridiculous.)

Really, there’s nothing unusual to report… and that’s a serious problem. That means there were still 100+ people in that dining room, some of whom are housed and food-insecure, but most of whom are unsheltered. Although I see new faces each time I volunteer there, I’ve also seen some of the same people, regularly, for two years—the tall guy from New Orleans, the middle-aged guy with the light brown skin and freckles, the young man with the beautiful twist braids, the mother and daughter who’ve been wearing the same sweatshirts for months.

Mostly, what hasn’t changed over the years is the reality that an overwhelming majority of Bridge guests are Black men. In 2014, 46.6% of people in St. Louis City were white, and 47.5% were Black. Standing in that dining room, you’d never guess the percentages are so similar. Not remotely.

So today I’ve been sad. And angry. There’s no good reason for homelessness to begin with, and there’s certainly no good reason why the overwhelming majority of people without homes in St. Louis are Black. You will never convince me that racial injustice isn’t real. It is real. And it’s ugly.

And, as my friend Willis Johnson has said more times than I can count, it may not be our fault, but it must be our fight. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m tired of seeing all those Black faces in that dining room.

 

3 Comments

  1. mo costello   •  

    Great post, Kelly. Thanks for your years at the Bridge and thanks for your commitment to the fight.

  2. Vanessa F   •  

    I understand the frustration. It is hard, especially seeing the same faces trapped in the cycle of poverty for years. I have worked in the education system, the mental health system, and volunteered with shelters and transitional housing. I have come to the conclusion that we must accept 1) that mental health plays a huge role in homelessness, and 2) as a society, we may have to reassess whether or not it is “kinder” to let a mentally ill homeless have the “liberty” to live and suffer on the streets with their addictions. Also, 3) we have to stop ignoring that IQ plays a role in homelessness. Some ethnic groups have lower IQ’s, (that does NOT mean they are less valuable people!!), and our modern society simply does not allow for enough physical labor, and low skill jobs that pay a living wage. Social media and advertising make it worse – long gone is the era where the average person could be happy with an average lifestyle. The constant bombardment of ads and iphones and luxury cars makes it difficult for the average person to accept that they can be happy without these items. Raising minimum wage doesn’t seem to help much (cost of living rises, and people get replaced w machines), nor does offering free college classes to those who struggle with advanced skills. There isn’t a great answer yet… but the first step is admitting that mental health and IQ play important roles… much greater roles than “prejudice”. In a nation where we have a well respected bi-racial President, I think it’s time to stop blaming white people, and start looking at real solutions for these problems. Great blog, I love your writing!

  3. Kelley   •     Author

    Hey, Vanessa. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and for your work with vulnerable populations. There are so many factors involved in homelessness that it’s certainly difficult to tease out those we can influence from those beyond our control.

    I have to admit that I had a visceral, negative reaction to your assertion that “some ethnic groups have lower IQs”–largely because the tests we use to measure intelligence are wonky on multiple levels. It may be more helpful to talk about how to get higher-quality education in lower-income communities. And yes, mental health does play a role in homelessness, as does substance abuse. That makes our work more difficult, but no less necessary, as you know.

    To be clear: I’m not blaming white people. But I also wouldn’t put prejudice in quotation marks, because doing so seems to suggest it’s not real. I can’t think of any real solutions to poverty and homelessness that don’t attend to the realities of white privilege and systemic racism.

    Finally, HIGH FIVE on your comments about consumerism! Yes, yes, yes.

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