One thing that I did not anticipate to experience was boredom. On the Friday of our weekend we sent the students, armed only with a one dollar bill, on a scavenger hunt to find directions, a place to stay, food, etc. on the streets of downtown Toledo. Team members shadowed close behind. At first, things were quite exciting. They wandered to the downtown library, asking for directions along the way, to receive further instructions via an email that had been sent to them.
Next was to find food and the nearest soup kitchen seemed reasonable, so off we went. After the meal was over, everyone looked at each other and following conversation took place:
“What time is it?”
“Oh…what time are we getting picked up?”
“Oh…what do we do now?”
This is where I thought the real adventure would begin. But it was cold…really cold. There was nowhere really to go but the warm library again. So the kids pulled their dollars together and bought a deck of cards from the corner store, marched back to the library, and then loitered. In any normal circumstance, these kids would have been kicked out…and I wish they had. Turns out the library director knew of our program and let some things slide. Such a shame.
By even the second day you begin to know who in the crowd is likely homeless. I wasn’t profiling…I just recognized people. People at the shelter and at the soup kitchen, all wearing the same clothes of course. They were scattered throughout the giant library just sitting, just plain bored. Our loitering around was the poverty experience. But why? Can’t they be doing something? Anything? There were lots of explanations, some spoken and some not. Mental illness. Depressed. Option-less. Cold. There were lots of people in that community structure: the deep-pockets at the lawyers association conference upstairs, the homeless, the high school students getting a lesson in life, and the 34 year-old pastor getting the same lesson. Some of us had somewhere to go…a purpose…and some of us didn’t.
You can’t force someone out of poverty, I learned that day, but you can at least provide a place to go. Maybe fighting poverty isn’t really about fighting poverty. Maybe fighting poverty is providing opportunity and then showing the way to go.