Sunday, February 15, 2015

Peer Support and a Homeless Night in San Diego

Mr. E seemed to breeze in an easy way under his brown knit cap and behind his shades.  He was smoking and I was jonesing.  Something in the way he rejected my appeal to buy a loosey from him hooked me into striking up a conversation with the older gentleman.

I was squatting in line, holding my place and skeptically wondering what was in store for me on my first night homeless in San Diego.  There’s a place named God's Extended Hand, where the houseless can go to partake of a homey meal served restaurant-style.  When I inquired to learn more about Mr. Eugene, he told me of his career in Detroit's glory days--back when cars were automobiles, made of steel and glass.  Motown was just establishing its trademark branding a new type of sound and the Civil Rights Movement was taking a toe hold.  We laughed together when he recounted with fondness, the memories of his growing up in a household of musical geniuses--and my jaw dropped when he casually mentioned his childhood acquaintance with Aretha Franklin and a loose association with other nameless greats in Jazz.

We spent the evening sharing stories of triumph and recovery.  I loved it most when he seemed to lose himself strumming the electronic strings of his treasured bass using GarageBand on my iPhone.  His lovely melodies on the keyboard kept me mesmerized as the fountain trickled its trippy rhythms and trains tooted by.

He  made sure I was warm and snug, carefully tucked in on a bench in a safe spot.  I was left to imagine how he would put into action his hoped-for plan to share his musical gifts and stories of survival as a black man, with youth who are currently labeled “at risk” and “disabled.”

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