In the small southern town in Central Texas, I awaken to frost on the roof and very frigid temperatures. A fitting setting for Christmas morning. I had no clue the temperature was to drop below freezing so did not take my normal precautions to protect my plants. Like my favored roses. I was paying more attention to what I felt and thought was a very important issue. A family who appear to be homeless with two small children, a dog and a cat. Living in a camper shell that pops into the back of a pick up truck with a blue tarpaulin stretched over the top and surrounding ground. Giving the appearance of something out of space.
Christmas lights are hung on the front of the tarp in an effort to decorate for Christmas or for all I know those may be there all the time for light.
They are situated in a park owned and managed by the city which has a camping area that allows for RVs and such. For the occasional tent to be popped for the overnighter on their way to another destination.
These folks however, do not have a vehicle and seem to have settled into the lifestyle of appearing very homeless. For a few weeks now I watched them walk past my house pushing the stroller holding their two children heading to the dollar store a few blocks away. Then I notice them going back again with bags hanging from the stroller handles. Walking ever so slowly toward their destination.
It is a long walk for them from the “camping” site. They have to traverse down various roads out of the park, a road going under a bridge that crosses the river leading to the highway above. Then they walk along the edge of the bridge and highway to reach the ramp that leads up to the street in front of my house. It is dangerous travel with the cars and trucks swooshing by at high speeds. It is after all a highway intended for cars and trucks not people on foot. Especially people with small children. All are placed at risk.
Why I have not noticed them until recently is odd although the living part of my house looks onto the back lawn with the bedrooms to the front of the house. So I have missed them.
So the other day when I noticed them I decided I needed to see what was really going on, where they lived because there are no houses in the direction they travel from and to. So I hopped in my car and headed to the park. Drove through the camp area and notice the blue space ship providing shelter. I watched them slowly walk toward the park, then to the restrooms of the park, then head toward the camping area. I knew the blue ship had to be where they were living. My heart twisted and turned for them. I knew that the dollar store could not possibly provided much in the way of food choices much less be that affordable. The disguise of the concept of dollar store.
I went to the city manager to talk with him about what the city could do for them and if there was any sort of program for people in this situation. He knew of them and warned me to not become involved. Yet the city has in times past let some down who really needed help.
The remainder of the day, I thought of them. I thought of the children living in those conditions of the cat I noticed when I drove past their “home”.
I could not sleep that night and tried to hear what the city manager said to me to stay out of it, that I would only get hurt. The next morning, yesterday, Christmas Eve, I fought the crowds in the grocery to load my cart with food for them. Picking up a couple of small toys along the way and resisting the urge to buy clothing and such for them as well. I really felt I was doing the right thing.
Having had extreme difficulty a few years ago, living on very little and one guy going to dinners with others…a group that I was once included and then when times became rough was no longer, bringing me the left overs from his dinner. Of course one of the group was the influence causing my problems…and it the action of the left overs was insulting when they all could have very well afforded to buy a separate dinner for me and bring it to me. Something I would have done for them.
So this family reminded me of those difficult times and I did what I felt I should do by buying the food and toys. Even a bag of food for the cat.
The city manager told me the guy was mean and hateful, so I was a bit concern in my delivery of the box. I phoned a friend to tell her to check on me in a hour if she did not hear from me. Just a precaution.
I asked God to watch over me as I approached the blue low hanging tarp. There was movement underneath that I could see through the “door” opening of the tarp where the Christmas lights hung. It was the man, the father. The dog and cat milled around and as I stopped the car which I left running, I took a deep breath and again asked God that it all go ok. I got out of the car, opened the back door where the box rest on the seat and said to the guy, I have something for you. Oddly he didn’t seem all that surprised or uncomfortable, something I realize now. He was extremely nice and thanked me for the box. We chatted briefly and I truly felt that they were in need and had had a very difficult time with little support or help which he told me as much.
I drove away feeling I did the right thing. Even though what I spent was a sacrifice for me and I didn’t buy anything special for me for a Christmas dinner deciding that I had a warm place, a nice house, a car and life wasn’t really all that bad, just not a life of means. So I focused on helping them this Christmas.
As it goes in life sometimes things are not as those seem. I asked a friend to approach her church to help the couple so that they all could perhaps have a permanent place to live and maybe there would be employment to follow. The appropriate approach it seemed to me.
The afternoon unfolded with that effort moving forward. Then the revealings began and continued at a party I attended last night. A time that I really enjoyed and then was tarnished to learn as I was leaving that another church had helped them just as the one I had asked my friend to approach, had helped. And it doesn’t stop there. Apparently yesterday this couple also received a car load of gifts, clothing, food and more from a wealthy woman in town. It still doesn’t stop with that. This has been going on for months. Months, mind you. They have been living in these conditions refusing the permanent type of help yet enjoying all the donations of good that come their way. Food, clothing, money. For months!
My heart is not as warm this morning knowing that I should have listened to the city manager. I should not have fallen once again for the scheme that some play. Yet it is about the children because they can not control or help what their parents do. They are the victims here. They are the ones living in the terrible conditions that even shiny new toys and good food can not over ride.
So this quiet Christmas morning as my daughter works 30,000 feet above making a flight a bit more comfortable for the travelers and families around me probably joyfully opening gifts and enjoying a warm breakfast, I wonder how people can take such advantage of others. How they can scheme and use children in the process.
There is an underlying current with this and the writer in me wants to explore and find out what it is however just as the city manager warned, I am hurt. My heart is hurt. My pride is hurt and I question why once again I fell for the “front” because I have so many times in the past and just like this time, I am left wondering how one can live with themselves and take so much from others. There are so many in real need and if we miss those in the process of being afraid of hurt, then we have missed what our hearts are about. Yet how does one know and how are people like this couple stopped so the ones in real need receive it. I feel sure there are others here, maybe even elderly who are in dire need of help yet they are not seen so they continue to go without.
It is bothersome to me yet I don’t know how to rectify it or how to deal with my feelings of being duped. Of being played the fool. Still I think about the children this Christmas morning. The dog and cat as well. And so it is A Christmas Morning. A cold Christmas morning.