Just a few steps down the block from us and across the street is a traffic triangle, dotted with trees and ringed with benches; a green space, as we say in urbania. For as long as we’ve lived in our second floor two bedroom, so too has a 50-something homeless couple lived in the triangle. They sleep in sleeping bags on the benches, store their belongings among the tree roots, and in rain, camp out under an awning of a nearby medical building. They depart for the winter months, but are back for spring through fall.
They are not unfriendly, they sup at the soup kitchen at our church. They stay up late and get wasted and yell in the summertime, and at times the police have made an appearance. Once we watched from our window in horror as the woman shit on our car. We nearly vomited when we had to clean it up, and that time we were the ones who called the police. They said there was nothing they could do about it. We solved the problem ourselves by never parking in what we now call the ‘ring of fire,’ around the triangle.
When we first moved in, they were stand-off-ish, but as they years have gone by they got used to us, say hi when we walk by. We see them at church, and if we’re sitting near, we all shake hands at the Sign of Peace. My son, who likes everyone, is always glad to see them and says hello. Our conversations don’t go past that; we don’t ask how they’re doing, we don’t talk about the weather. They are not beggars, and they experience life differently from us. Their foremost concerns are about immediate basics, and while we’re concerned about those too, we know that we will sleep in our apartment each night.
This spring, once the freezing temps began to abate, the couple returned. Only this year, a new homeless man came with them. I don’t know if he happened upon our traffic triangle on his own, or was invited by the couple, or tagged along without being invited, but he is here, and he does not add positively to life at the traffic triangle. He is younger than the couple, with a smooth head and a sleeve of tattoos. He is louder, he is drunker, and he is, worst of all, more aggressive. When he speaks his voice is louder than theirs. When he yells he bends low until his face is level with another’s face, and then he lets loose.
When we walk by, he scowls at us, and he has threatened us. The couple has told him to cool it, that they know us, and we’re fine. But when they are not there, we walk on the other side of the street, and cross to our house mid-block instead of pass by him on the same sidewalk. When they are all there together, he yells at them, and they seem resigned to it. But why? How did this happen? How did this peculiar homeless couple, who makes their home on a traffic triangle, end up burdened with this loose-cannon of a man? They don’t seem to like him, and I wonder what they get out of this relationship.
I feel bad for them, like a friend in an abusive relationship. I feel bad for us, because now we’re freaked out by the traffic triangle. The police have been around a little more. There was a homeless services van the other day. The situation at the traffic triangle seems to be escalating. I hope the new homeless man goes away.