Thursday, January 8, 2015
For the second or third night this season, a homeless woman has lodged herself inside the entry way to our condo building. It provides a fairly good shelter: doors to the walkway close but don’t lock, and the entry has plenty of room for someone to lie down in it. It’s almost a private room; she can’t be seen from the street. And we are safe from her coming into the building itself since the next set of doors require a key.
I was aware of her down there again last night as I went to bed and heard voices (actually one—hers), so I went down. Bundled up in untold layers of clothing and an overcoat, she had arrived with several grocery bags of her belongings, and a folding chair. She’s a middle-aged black lady. “I’m waitin’ on a friend here,” she said as I opened the locked lobby doors to talk to her. “I got permission.”
Well, of course she didn’t have either one of those things.
“I’m not sure that you should stay here,” I said. She continued to sort through her bags, guardedly ignoring me, but not being unfriendly. “Did you try to get into the city shelter?”
“I got permission cause I got a friend here. I’m jus waitin’ on my friend.” Out of one of her bags came a Starbucks cup and what looked like a half-eaten piece of cake.
What to do? As the HOA president here, I’m charged with looking after the property and its welfare. I was fairly sure that our residents would have big objections to our uninvited guest staying over, even in our outer entry way. On the other hand, what was the harm? She was fairly neat and apart from her Starbucks drink and cake, hadn’t done anything toward making a mess.
The temperature was falling slightly and it was getting late. “Okay,” I said. “You’d better camp out here for the night and wait for your friend. But maybe you can find a different place to sleep tomorrow night?”
Her guarded look softened. “Thank you. I’ll be gone in the morning. Thank you.”
“Oh, and one other thing. I live right above here and I’d appreciate it if you and your friend would not talk anymore tonight.”
She smiled. “I be quiet.”
What I will do if she comes back tonight, I don’t know. She’s very likely to return now that she’s found not only a relatively comfortable and protected spot, but also someone in the building who granted her permission to stay. Now, I guess, she probably thinks that she really does have a friend here.
The bigger question begs the moral one. We have a vacant entry where she’s away from the elements so why wouldn’t a sense of charity bid us share it with her. The other part of the issue ushers in the possibly unintended consequences of her spreading the word to other homeless rovers who would also want a night or two in our lobby entrance.
See? That’s the dilemma. Any comments?