The other night, at about 4 am there was a bit of a ruckus outside my bedroom window that woke me up.
I live in an alley with a popular bar on the corner and it was Friday night, so I didn’t think much of it at first. People often leave their bikes in my alley and sometimes have trouble finding it again after a couple of beers and I guess that’s fine. I also understand that you want to evaluate everything you saw with your friends and have a good giggle about it after a good night out.
This particular occasion was different though, as I started smelling a foul smell at some point and heard some more stumbling and crashing that had me sitting up in my bed for the second time that night. I knew it must be one of my neighborhood bums fighting his demons. It’s happened before and usually, when I step out, they apologize and promise they’ll keep it down.
This particular homeless person, let’s call him Oscar, was new to me and there was no apology when he saw my sleepy face peaking at him. I know most of them by appearance, as the shelter is quite close to my house and they often hang around a bit before they’re allowed in. I know enough about alcoholics to recognize in a split second when someone is beyond reasoning, and that was definitely the case with Oscar on this particular night.
Oscar had rolled someone’s garbage container into my alley and had tipped it over. He was emptying its contents onto the street while cursing to himself about the system and how he had been wronged by this person and that. I asked him what he was doing and he barely looked up. I saw that this was not the right time (or outfit) to be taking on Oscar, so I closed my door, lighted up some incense in my bedroom and plugged my ears with some soothing music and tried to go back to sleep.
Shortly after I crawled back to bed, I heard a car pull into my alley and I knew it was the police… I felt bad for Oscar, because I had decided not to call the police on this guy because I thought he had enough to deal with already. Apparently not all my neighbors could be so forgiving at these hours. I couldn’t resist, so I put my bath robe back on and went to my door. The police asked him the same thing I had asked, and this time he answered:
I’m putting up my tent here, can’t you see?! I wanted to go to the shelter, but they wouldn’t let me in! I don’t understand why not, don’t I have a right to stay somewhere? This is my country too! They treated me like an animal, so I took their bin and now I’m trying to clean it out so I can sleep.
He was so angry. So troubled. The police told him to put the trash back in the bin and he reacted with more anger. It’s all he had to give them at that point.
Why should I listen to you? So you can take me down to the station? Check my name, I have no debts, no criminal record, I just want a place to sleep!
I wanted to say something to him, but I didn’t know how or what. One of the policemen saw me at the door and ordered me to go back inside. Oscar glared at me and I know he thought I was the one that had called them.
I wanted to tell him it wasn’t me. I wanted him to know that I would have let him sleep in my alley, even beside my door if he had only kept it down… I wanted him to know that I didn’t judge him for his current state, nor for the fact he had no home to go to. I knew he was only here because the shelter didn’t have room for him, or because he wasn’t able to collect the couple of euros needed to pay to stay there. I wanted him to feel I saw him as a full fledged person, not an animal or any lesser being.
When the dust had settled (all though the smell lingered for a bit) and silence took over in my alley once again, it took me a while to fall back asleep. I wondered if the one that called the police was actually the only one that had done him a favor as he now probably had a place to spend the night…