She walks, or rather shuffles into the kitchen, often loaded down with her earthly possessions in several bags and often a blanket over her shoulders. It is somewhat strange to see a woman in her 30s with no teeth left in her mouth. ‘Abigail’ has had a very tough few years; physically worked over several times, once having a bicycle violently thrown in her face right outside the kitchen door. She received a broken jaw that time.
Every time something happens to her, she comes in, and, using a whining pleading tone, will request something or other. I will always try to dig a little bit deeper into her history, but that has proven to be almost impossible. Sometimes, getting an honest straight forward answer is like pulling hen’s teeth. I guess that it is a defence mechanism.
The other day she came into the kitchen after a mealtime and pleaded incessantly that she had not eaten in two days and she was starving, could she please have one sandwich, so the person in the kitchen, being busy, placed a bag of buns with some peanut butter and jam in front of her. As she proceeded to slather all the buns in the bag with PB & J, I walked in from shopping and asked what she was doing, to which she whined that she had not eaten in two days. I then informed both her and the fellow in the kitchen that she had again lied, because she had eaten two bowls of soup and bun just the day before which of course she denied. So I proceeded to admonish her for lying because it was I whom had served her both times.
The one thing that I have learned over the years at the kitchen is that truth on the street is totally subjective to whatever it is they desire at that moment, so that is what we hear for the most part. Stories are often manufactured in order to achieve certain products or services, so much so in fact that some will actually believe their own stories.
What gets me is that often they will come into the kitchen very depressed or even crying and express a deep desire to leave the street life behind. In an effort to let them know that we are solidly behind any effort of that nature, we give them all kinds of encouragement and will pray with them. This somehow assuages their depression and they will leave and immediately go back to the same lifestyle; that has been Abigail’s story for two years. The real truth remains as elusive as ever.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing her or condemning her, rather I am relating things as they happen in order to point out that the truth for many of these folks is truth only in relation to what they want or feel they need at that particular moment. There are times when reality pays them a visit that you might get a glimpse of the real truth.
Over the past 20 years, we have been witness to many such reality visits, and then they make a real effort to change their lives. That is when you hear the real truth, if they are willing to share. The truth sometimes though is far too ugly and hurtful to share, but you soon realize that change to a normal life for them comes at a great cost.
Behind every person on the street is a story that will often tear the heart out of your chest. If we are willing to listen when they are ready to tell, we begin to understand their reasons for being on the street. Then finally we begin to discover the truth.
Chris Salomons is the kitchen co-ordinator at Potters Hands.