20 January 2008
At this writing, midnight January 20, it's 11 degrees in Cincinnati. At the Drop Inn shelter on West 12th, nobody is turned away. No matter how drunk, how high on crack, no matter how many fleas or bedbugs are harbored in one's clothing. No matter how loud and belligerent, no matter how inflated one's sense of entitlement, no matter how diminished one's self-regard. Everybody gets in. A place designed to hold about two hundred, the Drop might pack three to four hundred people into it's confines on a bitter cold January night. The staff stops counting, because they don't have time. The overcrowding reduces personal space, which is almost non-existent to begin with, and the press from this babel of tortured psyches is itself a sort of torture that engenders anti-social behavior. One man becomes angry at another man for coughing without covering his mouth. The angry man assaults the coughing man; staff has to restrain him and promise to call the police if he doesn't settle down. If they throw him out tonight, he'll probably die of hypothermia. People make drug transactions. A man is trying to pick up cash by selling his straight razor. Alcoholics collapse on the floor and the sober homeless must step over or around them. In the press at the rest room door, a man with a stoma cannot get to a toilet stall in time; he soils himself, and the fecal odor causes howls of outrage. It is literally too crowded to simply walk away from him. It is all the staff can do to make sure there is minimal compliance with the fire code. People caught smoking are told to put it out or go to the smoker's room, which is not as well heated as the rest of the building. Smoker's risk pneumonia in order to take delivery of that nicotine. In the men's shower room, only one shower is fit to use, although there is no hot water. In the other shower stalls, one might find the tile floor fouled by feces, urine or bloody vomit. In another, there is ankle deep brown water, afloat with trash, including a single corduroy bedroom slipper. Another shower stall's floor is glittering with broken glass, and judging from the smell, it was probably a bottle of malt liquor. A homosexual couple are trysting in the stall farthest from the door, expressing their enthusiasm loudly and profanely. There are seven or eight toilet stalls, half of them with feces on the toilet seats. Three urinals are clogged and overflowing. The entire shower and toilet room smells of human waste, stale beer, cannabis and crack. Yet people continue to urinate and loiter. The loiterers believe they can stay out of sight of the staff, which for an hour here or there might be true. There was a dinner served earlier tonight, like every night. Tonight's menu was a bowl of undercooked black-eyed peas, a three day old dinner roll, and a ten ounce foam cup of Kool-aid. Every bunk and floor mat in the first floor men's bunk room is occupied. While some guests try to sleep at tables and on the old depot-style wooden benches, most of those who represent the overflow mill about, talking loudly, cursing, telling preposterous lies, trying to exhaust themselves enough so that somehow they can find a place against the wall, place their elbows over their knees, and doze for an hour or two before seven a.m. arrives, and everybody has to leave.
Posted by David Carney at 00:40