From 2015 - 2017 I had the good fortune (and later, the misfortune) to work at a downtown agency that serves individuals who experience homelessness.
During that time, I met many men and women who lived on the street. My favorite, who I came to love, was Frank.
Frank, when he was sober, was charming, funny and intelligent. When he was drunk, he was obstreperous, disagreeable and stubborn.
I had many dealings with Frank during the two years that I worked at the agency. My least favorite was the time he walked in drunk and threw up on me.
At any rate, suffice to say that on his worst days, Frank was difficult to like, never mind love. But despite the bad days, I did love him. I loved that he could have surprisingly eloquent discussions about his life (when he was sober). I loved that he once kissed my hand when I put it out to shake his. I loved that he told me that I made a difference in his life after he kissed that hand. I loved that, one time in Foodland, he dragged me over to the frozen food aisle to introduce me to his mother, who was visiting from Hoonah. I didn’t do much for him, except listen to him, greet him on the street and tell him I’d pray for him. Many times he’d stagger in drunk and demand to be seen without an appointment, and I’d have to ask him to leave. He stand there swaying and tell me: “You’re no better than they are”, (“They” being Bartlett Hospital, SEARHC, or the Glory Hole, or whoever he was currently fighting with that day).
I worried about Frank, especially two winters ago, when the temperatures were in the ‘10s and the winds were blowing 70 mph. The city had instituted a “no camping” ordinance, which meant that the street people could not seek shelter in doorways without being cited and moved along.
Several agencies and individuals begged the city not to adopt this ordinance, and when they did, begged them to set up a warming shelter, which they (eventually) did.
Frank’s was the face I saw when I testified at the City Assembly meetings. I was sure he would not survive that winter. But miraculously, he did.
An organization called Housing First built a housing development that shelters chronic inebriates. Frank finally got housing in one of the apartments there. A few months after he found housing, I ran into him and asked how he liked his new place. He said in a wondering tone: “I have a closet! I got my clothes out of storage and I have a place to put my stuff!” He was delighted. I was so happy for him. I still occasionally saw him on the street. Sometimes he was drunk, but even so, he looked much happier.
Frank died in his own bed, in his warm room, some time in the night of July 9.
He was 56 years old. Here’s a link to an article about his death. http://juneauempire.com/local/news/2018-07-10/man-dies-housing-first
At my desk at the clinic, I taped up pictures of Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, to remind me of why I worked there, and to remind myself that Frank, and all of the homeless folks we served, were Christ, in His most distressing disguise, and that offering a kind word even while being yelled at by an unruly drunk person was doing a small thing with great love.
If you would like to remember Frank, and honor his memory, please give a donation to the Juneau Community Foundation for Housing First. http://juneaucf.org/index.php/special-projects-juneau-housing-first/
Please pray for Frank, and for his family.