A walk that haunted me
For 11 years, I have driven past this park every day on my way to work. Rarely had I ever glanced out my window to peek at it; never had I stopped my car to walk in it.
I parked next to a red truck – the only other vehicle in the lot. I got out of my car and walked to the men’s bathroom. Opening the door, I saw a man asleep, shoeless and shirtless, blocking the entry. I walked around to the ladies room – three men lay there, inside and outside the restroom.
My first reaction was to walk away. I did. I headed across the parking lot to the one-third mile path looping around the park. But my first instinct was to get away from the homeless men. I didn’t say, “Good morning.” I didn’t ask if they needed help. I wanted to get away.
The path ducked behind a small grove of trees and bushes, blocking the view of the rest of the park. A woman exited as I entered. A few steps further, a man and his dog headed toward me. The path hugged the old brick wall of Cave Hill Cemetery. As I emerged from the trees, the three men still rested by the ladies room. I continued my walk around the playground. I came to a drainage area and stopped. In the parking lot, only my car remained. I figured I’d walk a couple more circuits of the loop then head to work.
Then another man, across Lexington Road, yelled out in incoherent bursts. He walked across the street, heading toward the men in the ladies room. He continued to yell out.
I walked to my car and drove off.
It wasn’t an unnerving experience. But it was a reminder of my own weakness and of our failings as a civic community. Four or five homeless men among thousands. By some estimates, the Louisville area needs 31,000 dwelling units to ensure housing for every homeless and at-housing-risk man, woman and child in the area. Let me say that again – thirty one thousand units. In street counts, homeless people are found in every single zip code in the area. How can we fail so many people so profoundly?
For years I served on the Board of St John Center, a homeless services agency. Its former Executive Director often said, “Seeing men and women homeless should trouble us. It should haunt us as a community.”
That’s what I felt like on this walk – haunted.