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Two men.

Friends.

Not lifelong, but close friends through their mutual struggle for survival in a world that does not understand them.

Two men. Friends, living on the fringe of our community. Creating a home together with others traveling the same road. Sleeping on concrete slabs under a bridge. Not truly sleeping. Maybe an hour here or there. It isn’t safe to fall into a deep sleep under the bridge. The rats are the least of their worries.

Users, drunks, violent criminals, all vying for that one warm blanket as the wind howls across the dirt and garbage, putting out the carefully built fire. Just enough to be warm, but not enough to draw attention to their concrete beds. Their home for the night. And the week. And the coming months. Because the shelters don’t open again until October.

Robbie, standing guard back at the bridge after a short bid in the county jail. Robbie, who lives a life where jail is preferable to his usual “home”. There is food in jail, a bed that is not made of stone, medical care, a shower.

John isn’t at the bridge. He is in an apartment, eviction imminent. There is no heat or electricity in the apartment, and it’s getting cold. But he is inside. That is the best that can be expected.

I am his friend.

Robbie has a friend. A friend that loves him dearly, and who struggles with the reality that she cannot help him. She does not know that her love has changed his life. That the sound of her voice is enough to get him through one more day.

A friend comes to me at work and tells me that someone has died under the bridge. He drew the short straw and had to come find me. I know in my heart who has died, and do not know how I will make the phone call to tell my friend  that her best friend is gone. That he was found this morning. Alone. Cold. Under that godforsaken bridge. His body has been long removed, yet his glasses remain on the concrete. His belongings scattered.

John has returned after being evicted. I am told he will not make it through the winter under the bridge. And when I see him, I know she speaks the truth. I take him to the shelters at night after work, and bring him coffee and lunch at the train station during the day. He sleeps on a hard bench, hoping not to be sent outside by the police after he’s walked 4 miles from the shelter back to the warmth of the train station. His hip was replaced 15 years ago, and it needs to be replaced again. The pain is constant but there is no other option than to just keep walking. To the next train station. To tonight’s shelter. To the bridge.

He tells me he wants to die. That his life serves no purpose. That he cannot make it one more day/

But he makes it one more day and a miracle happens.

There is a chance for a home. For a small unit to call his own. Safe. Clean. Warm.

As we move his newly acquired belongings into his home, and celebrate with burritos, I am so relieved that my friend is safe. He is warm. And he has the beginnings of hope.

Robbie and John. Both are home now. Different homes, yet they are now both safe. Robbie’s passing has been difficult for all who knew him. That he will never spend another night under that bridge is little consolation. There is a void that will never be filled. My friend lives with a broken heart and the guilt that she couldn’t save him.

John is home. Waiting for the first snowfall. Happy to sit with his coffee and watch the snow drift across the field. I pray that he has spent his last night under the bridge. I pray for the hundreds left wandering from shelter to shelter, train station to train station, bridge to bridge.

Robbie and John. Friends. Our friends.

This. This is the mission of Almost Home. To touch as many of our forgotten neighbors as we can with the time we have on this earth.

To let them know that we see them. To touch their hand and offer our friendship.

Because everyone deserves to know that someone knows they exist.