This morning I went looking for Jackie. I couldn’t find him. Instead, I found Bill, a homeless Vietnam veteran. He said he hadn’t seen Jackie all morning. Jackie’s also homeless. I first met him about two and half years ago. Walking in Downtown, you get used to the homeless people. You smell the urine sometimes. You realize some urinate on the same spots daily and you could even notice and avoid the urine stream stains. It’s easy to not want to pay attention to the homeless. So, that’s exactly what I would do two and a half years ago. Not pay attention to them. Everyday I would walk and hear some request for money and would give some bogus excuse or ignore it all together. “I don’t have change. I’m on my way to lunch. I’ll give you something on my way back. I only have credit cards.” You name it. I’d say it. In retrospect, I should have ignored the requests if I wasn’t going to give anything. But, I didn’t. I find it hard to ignore people. I responded with randomness. Of course, regardless of what I would say, I wouldn’t return. Until one day, after giving another one of my random excuses, I was stopped in my tracks by a tall, skinny, black old man with blue eyes, and a tired, long, and worn face. He said to me, “Why you do that?” “Why do you tell me you gonna come back and never come back?” I felt embarassed and just quietly looked down. I walked away. I was by the JESU church on NE 1st Avenue and 3rd street. As I walked away from him, I felt regret in my heart. This homeless guy was right. So, I went to one of the parking lot toll guys and asked him to change a 10 dollar bill for me. I went back to the homeless guy and asked him his name. “Jackie”, he responded. I asked him how many times I had not come back when saying I would, and he remembered the days and my lame excuses. I couldn’t believe it. This guy had great memory. The first thing to mind was that he can’t be doing hard drugs. I gave him a dollar for every one of my lame excuses, four in all. This began a two year old friendship that continues to this day. Jackie has even given me gifts (a waiter’s tray, and ironically a bath set in a wicker basket.) He said that the bath set was for my pretty lady. One time he told me that if I ever needed a couple of bucks for an emergency, he’d raise it for me. Now, I would give Jackie at least two dollars every time I saw him. Like a friend, I’d listen to him when he’d talk. I rarely talk to him for more than three minutes out of each day. Still, I realized I was one of many sponsors who helped him. When times got rough, he’d ask for 5 sometimes 10 bucks. When he felt he had to go to the hospital, he went to his friends and would ask for money for transportation to go to Jackson Memorial. I realized I was one of his most reliable friends. I realized how important I and others like me were to someone like Jackie, who to most, is not worthy of an after thought even less a name or identity. I appreciate Jackie and am determined to address the issue of homelessness head on. Jackie represents hundreds of homeless people in downtown Miami. There are plans for Camillus House to be moved west of the I-95, but these guys will just find their way back to the city, because they have to; it’s where their sponsors are. They’re not going anywhere, so long as they remain homeless. Many of them are mentally unstable, but others, like Jackie, are sound of mind. During hurricanes they hide in alleys, like cats. One of them Ralph, is 62 and in a wheelchair, and had to do just that during hurricane Katrina. He said God looked after him.
I’m going to, as part of my overall analysis of Miami’s historic urban transformation, report on homelessness regularly. How many of them are there? How rampant is drug use among them? Where do they congregate most? These are not questions people like to ask, but they are vitally important if one is to understand one of the most obvious problems present in Miami.