That's a twist on an old Christmas standard. Homeless for Christmas. It's likely that you , yes you reading this, are not homeless. It's very likely that you, like me, are sitting in a clean chair with clean clothes in a nice place (car or house) that you can call your own. The temperature is probably at a comfortable setting, and you feel pretty safe. We're blessed. Not everyone have that, and I saw the reality of that statement on a whole different level yesterday.
I wasn't doing much on Christmas day. After working like a mule Christmas Eve, I slept in until about 10am. It wasn't long that I decided to go out and take a few pictures. I didn't leave the house with the intention of photographing anything in particular; I just wanted to get behind the camera and explore. As I headed downtown, I remembered that my Uncle Ray told me about homeless people who lived under the bridges in Columbia.
There was my subject.
I parked behind Memorial Park and walked toward Hampton Street.
Mind blown. I drive over these bridges every other day. People really live under bridges? In Columbia? It's not even that big of a city. ~130k Soda citizens, 1,000 homeless, about 300 unsheltered.
Want to help start counting the unsheltered for 2015 SCCH Report? Start here.
Hampton Street. Taylor Street. Laurel Street. Crazy. Reality.
The one thing I noticed was the amount of trash that was an indication of a meal. Tons of plates, eating utensils, and wrappers lined the sides of the railroad and pilings. One bridge was full of trash on both sides, almost as if it was the landfill for the community.
I can't imagine eating in such conditions, but then again, it's not my reality. At this point I'm merely a spectator, an outsider looking in. This has me wondering. What more can I do? I know I can't help them all, but what about one or two?
This was the place that I actually ran into a couple of people living under the bridge. They weren't interested in speaking with me, asking if I was a cop. I assured them that I wasn't a cop, but an artist looking for a connection.
Of all places this was the worst. So much trash and excrement right in the middle of the tracks. I had to watch where I stepped. The feces was so surprising I had to take a picture just to help convey the gravity of this situation.
As I type this I'm looking at my kids in their pajamas, getting ready for bed after a day of riding around with their mom from store to store, shopping and eating. I worked until about 3pm, headed to church for a choir rehearsal and now I'm here....tired....reflecting on these pictures.
We're so blessed. So fortunate. So forgetful. So oblivious.
I feel like I have to do something. I can't turn left off of Huger Street without thinking that there are people right under me. They are beneath me, but they aren't....if that makes sense. I have to do something. I mean, the only thing that kept me ( or even keeps me) from being in that same state, is grace.
Maybe it's time for me to extend a little grace so that someone else can possibly, maybe even next year, have a place besides a bridge, to call home for Christmas.