I've been going down to the Corpus Christi House for 3 weeks now. It takes about half an hour to walk down, and half an hour back. I go down twice a week--on Tuesdays, when another regular tutor doesn't come, and on Thursdays, when the guy I am helping with Calc III on campus doesn't have class, so doesn't meet me. (This means that every day, I've got something that gets me up relatively early--either to leave here at 8:30 to get to Corpus at 9, or to meet the student at 9.)
The first two weeks, I tutored a woman who is trying to pass the math GED test. (I'm unfamiliar with the GED other than what I've learned here. Is it essentially the same everywhere in the country?) I wrote about that in my last entry, and it's about the same. This week, though, she was a no-show. On Tuesday, she wasn't feeling well, and on Thursday, neither she nor her husband had been seen, and nobody knew where she was. This is the sort of thing that's not exactly unexpected at a homeless shelter. I was told that it would be even worse this week, since it's the first week of the month. We'll see.
So, instead, I helped another guy on Tuesday with the reading comprehension part of the test. His hardest thing was trying to understand the words--the reading comprehension part has a lot of reading, and a lot of the readings (and questions) used fancy words that he didn't know. (The last passage we read was an art criticism, and it was full of words like De Stijl, and Piet Mondrian and retrospective and lush and hedonist. Some of the words he understood when I broke them down (like retrospective), and others, when I told him similar words. (I told him just to ignore all the capitalized words in the second paragraph--the art styles and artists weren't terribly crucial to anything the questions asked.)
And then, on Thursday, he didn't show up, either. There were 3 or 4 volunteers, and no students. (One guy was there at the computer, writing a letter to somebody, and another was getting ready to go take his writing test that afternoon, but that's really it.) I spent those two hours combing the sample test for technical words that might be more likely to come up (in questions) than other vocabulary in the stories, to make a vocabulary list for him.
But it's been an experience. I'm not getting a whole lot of exposure to the homeless community--there are probably half a dozen regulars or so that I'm seeing, hearing, and getting to know. (There are many more who hang out at the day shelter next door, or hang out on the sidewalk nearby, but not as many come into the education center.) But I am hearing stories and other people's experiences. And I'm doing something worth doing.
It's an interesting community, though. There are lots of types of people in it. Some of the people are mentally ill or drug addicts, of course, but there are other people who seem somewhat normal. A surprising number of people with advanced degrees, I'm told. (I've had a conversation with one guy who used to be chemical engineer, and who is now interested in alternative energy.) As I walked home on Thursday, I thought about it, and realized how easily that could be me there. If, for whatever reason, I found myself homeless in Boise, I could easily make it work. The day shelter offers showers, and I could probably condense my belongings to something that's portable. (Easily done, just by getting rid of all my books! Everything else would fit in my car.) As it is, I'm nomadic with my office. I carry my office with me--my laptop, satchel of papers to grade, textbook, and notebook. The abundance of wireless makes it easy to set up my office anywhere. I don't think it would be too hard to make it work while homeless. And, knowing me, once I got to the point where I could make it work and get everything done, I'm not sure how motivated I'd be to go through the process of trying to find an apartment or something. I think that, aside from the drug problems or mental illness, I can appreciate, to some extent, where the people in this community are coming from.
(Interestingly enough, I was talking to the guy who organizes young adult ministry in Boise, and he said that he actually had been homeless in the past. Due to circumstances outside his control, he was living out of his office and car for the better part of a year. And, oddly enough, it was during this time that he met and started dating the woman he'd marry. She never found it odd that they never went to his place.)
I got paid this week, so I paid my rent for October. Still haven't paid for September. So I'm not homeless, yet. Maureen lent me money to fly to North Carolina for Andrew's wedding, so I bought that ticket, too.