There were several homeless people – some called them street people – who frequented our doors. It’s easy to label all such persons in this category as a certain stereotype – mental illness, drug and/or alcohol addictions, no desire to get off the streets, deviants – but some sincerely were caught up in situations beyond their control. Most, however, that were frequent visitors at Teen Challenge did fit into one of the mentioned stereotypes.
There was the lady who came in at least once a week demanding food. The kitchen workers – and by kitchen workers, these were mostly students assigned to kitchen detail – usually gave her a donut, or a piece of fruit. Our policy was that we didn’t give away food because it wasn’t always easy to provide meals for the students and live-in staff.
If this lady didn’t like what they gave her, or if they had nothing to give her, she would curse, stomp off, slam doors, and occasionally throw something. I had finally given up on greeting her with a cheerful hello because she just snarled at me. I would simply smile politely if she looked my way.
Summer heat in Phoenix is brutal, especially for those who worked or stayed outdoors. The homeless are particularly vulnerable. Many organizations such as the Salvation Army set up stations around the downtown area to give out cold bottled water.
It was on one of those scorching days of temperatures over one hundred ten degrees that I had an encounter with this snarky woman.
Using the restroom was not a simple task for me. I usually would page into someone else’s office and ask them to answer the phone for a few minutes, or snag an intern as he walked by. This particular day, I couldn’t rouse anyone to help me, and I had to go. Since the restrooms were located in the breezeway in front of my office door, I decided to make a mad dash.
When I flung open the restroom door, there stood snarky lady. She was nude from the waist up, splashing water over her head and soaking her blouse and bra in the sink. Fire spit from her eyes as she let loose a stream of obscenities and kicked the door shut in my face.
I stumbled backwards, my mouth agape, and slunk back into my office, only to have her slam my door open in a few minutes, hair and clothes dripping water, and call me a foul name. Although I was compassionate toward her need to cool off, I knew I would not want to run into her in a dark alley.