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The kindness of strangers

Editor's note: F.B. Drake III has been a freelance writer for the Tidings since December. He became homeless the first week of February and is chronicling the challenges he faces in this daily series. On Thursday, Drake was given the temporary use of a room in an Ashland home. The remaining installments he wrote before getting a room will continue to run in the Tidings over the next few days.

Saturday evening, Feb. 7, 2009

While sitting on the picnic table, I noticed someone was inside the church. I went to the back door, and it was open. I went inside. I introduced myself to Ron, the maintenance and cleaning man for the church. We talked, and it soon came up that I was homeless and a veteran, also. My night and outlook changed immediately.

Ron called Ruth Coulthard, a local crusader for the homeless, and we took a ride. Ruth gave me a brand new sleeping bag, informed me the emergency shelter at the Presbyterian Church would possibly be open Sunday and Monday night. She also told me that there would be a potluck on Sunday at 2 p.m. near the band shell in Lithia Park.

We left Coulthard's house and Ron stopped at Senor Sam's and bought me dinner. We went back to the Congregational church, ate and talked. The rest of the night I helped him clean and set up the church for Sunday services. I felt so much better. Ron turned me on to a great place to sleep. I've been using it ever since. The spot is much better than my previous choices on the first two nights, with a covering, a thick piece of cardboard on the floor — it is kind of like a fort when we were kids. It is surprisingly comfortable. The night got even better when he allowed me to take a shower — it was a godsend, I felt so much better, like a normal person, both physically and mentally.

Sunday, Feb. 8

I woke up at around 6 a.m. and still felt sore, but it was a much milder soreness than I felt earlier. I actually slept rather well, so well that I went back to sleep until 7. I packed up my gear and was out around 7:30. I went to Safeway for coffee and the bathroom. I decided to get back to my WASP roots and went to the 8 a.m. service at Trinity Episcopal Church and really enjoyed it. It was a familiar atmosphere from my younger days, and it felt good to be there.

Trinity Rector Anne Bartlett and I talked after mass, and so did some of the parishioners. Anne was kind enough to give me a gift card to Safeway, which will come in handy when it's time to eat. Looking for something else to do, I decided to go to the Ashland Christian Fellowship. My friend Lenny Goldberg told me about it. It was a lively service and very uplifting, I will go back.

By 12:30, I was in the library for a day of typing these and other stories for the Tidings. I left the library at 4 p.m. I then called Ruth Coulthard to find out if the shelter would be open, but got no answer. I wasn't going to walk all the way to Walker Street to find it closed; it seemed a little warm for it to open. I believe it opens if the temperature dips to 20 degrees. When you are homeless and without transportation, you tend to center yourself in areas that are not too far from the things you need. Going all the way to the Presbyterian Church would have been a mistake, especially in the rain with all my gear.

I decided to use the Safeway gift card and bought some fried chicken, a Coca-Cola and some "Jo-Joes" (I have never heard fries called that). Went to the Congregational Church's picnic table and dined "al-fresco." My dining got rained out within 15 minutes (around 4:30). I decided to go back downtown, so I found a spot to hide my gear. I felt nervous about leaving it there, but figured that the odds of someone finding it outweighed the thought of carrying all that stuff with me. Went to Pangea for coffee until 6:30, and then went to a group at the Trinity Church.

I find that being homeless is giving me a strong desire to be around people, even if I don't interact with them. It makes me feel normal. It takes away, even if only for a short time, the intense lonely feeling.

I went back to my spot and found my gear undisturbed. Unpacked my sleeping bag and set up camp. I found my transistor radio with me and tuned into JPR for some entertainment. I fell asleep to Mozart, Bach and the sound of raindrops.

Contact freelance writer F.B. Drake at drakerusty@gmail.com.