I gathered my coat and briefcase, locked the door to my office, and walked out the front door of the building. I finished another day of work. The day wasn’t extraordinary. If anything, it was a normal day, but something happened that made me reconsider what a normal day at the office looks like.
As I stepped outside, I saw Tate sitting under the bus stop cover. I waved and said, “Have a good evening.” He reciprocated and said, “See you tomorrow.”
I got into my car, looked across the street at Tate, and pulled away to go home. Then, it hit me. That perfectly normal experience for me is an extraordinary event that should shake me to my core.
Tate is an older gentleman. He’s lived a hard life, suffered physical trauma, and battled alcoholism for decades. His unkempt hair and beard, the smell of urine, and the hospital gown wrapped around him were nothing out of the ordinary. Tate is homeless.
I work at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, a homeless service provider in Chattanooga, TN that provides a full range of services for people experiencing homelessness. Someone facing homelessness could come to the 700 block of East 11th Street the day they become homeless, and they can get every service they need to overcome homelessness.
We provide a cold weather warming shelter during the coldest months, a couple of program shelters, a family shelter, 3 meals daily, day shelter with mail service, laundry, and showers, a thrift store with the ability to shop with only an ID so people without can still get what they need, a transitional housing complex, job training, and case management services that teach life-skills, connect individuals with employers, landlords, and subsidized housing opportunities.
Tate is one of the people we serve on a regular basis. He’s been a fixture in the area for a while, and we haven’t made the right connection with him, yet that will motivate his transition from homelessness to housed. His normal is sitting in his wheelchair under the bus stop cover outside our main entrance. My normal is walking past him at the end of the day to go home.
We live in the wealthiest nation in the world, and for many of us, our normal day is to walk past a man, a human being of immeasurable worth; someone’s son, brother, father, uncle, or nephew – someone’s friend, knowing they will be on the street overnight with no place to call home. And for some reason, we are okay with it.
My normal day is an extraordinary tragedy of our time.