Men and women who survive life on the streets share a bond like no other. This bond is an unspoken connection, commitment, respect, and love for each other that isn’t the same as the relationships we build outside of the life. The help we once offered each other out on the streets looked very different from what those outside of the life might understand.
The help we offered might look more like a hit of dope if someone was beaten or raped, or a shared sandwich. Or it might even look like a ride in a car or a night’s sleep in a hotel room to shower, if one of us had access to such a rare thing. Sometimes we watched over one another as we slept, particularly if we were sleeping outdoors or in an empty building. Sometimes we shared quarters for the dryers in the laundromat to get warm or dry off our clothes. I could go on. On the streets, we had each others’ backs, because no one else in the world did.
Once I heard an example of a similar type of bond formed among the survivors of a plane crash. Some died in the crash, and it took days for the survivors to be found. These individuals, who didn’t even know each other before this event, shared a bond and a connection that can’t be recreated outside of that event with another person. I think it’s the same for those of us who survived the streets and prostitution.
I was so sick with a cough, fever, sore throat—the works. A car turned the corner. I walked up and saw a friendly face, a “junkie–driver.” A junkie–driver is someone who gets high and has a car. His hustle is giving us rides to get dope. This particular junkie–driver drove a van. I heard voices and looked in the back. I saw a couple of folks from the hood warming up in the back. There were blankets everywhere. I asked if I could have one as I let out a cough.
They said I didn’t look so good, but I told them I was just sick and would be fine. I said, “I got cash for gas and for some dope if I can just ride for a while and rest.” They said sure. I gave them my cash as I climbed in the back. I said I didn’t need any dope; I just wanted to sleep. I curled up in a ball under a blanket and slept.
I don’t know how long they let me sleep back there, but I know it had been daylight when I got in and it was dark when they woke me up. “Ellie, it’s time. You got any more gas money?” I didn’t. They said they had someone
with some money, so they were letting me out and they would be back in an hour or so to check on me…
I share this story, I suppose, to show that we were there for each other. The help we offered one another might not look like help to an outsider looking in, but we took care of each other in the best ways we knew how. Ironically, I was offered more safety and true rest in that van with the junkie–driver than at many of the shelters around.
We recognized the brokenness we each shared, the hopelessness, the disparity, yet we always saw the humanity in one another—something the rest of the world chose not to see in us.
“Love your neighbor, all of ’em.” -Christine Clarity McDonald