I got off the catering truck last night at Dallas City Hall plaza and talked to some of the homeless people who were eating the food we’d passed out from the mobile soup kitchen where I was volunteering. I asked one woman, “Where will you stay tonight?” “Under a bridge,” she replied, but she flinched when she said it. When I didn’t register surprise, she seemed to become more at ease. “Will you be warm enough?” I asked her. “Oh, yeah,” and she seemed proud to say it, “I have plenty of blankets. I sleep on four or five and have four or five over me. If I get cold, I just flip another one over me from underneath.” We both laughed and agreed it was a good system. She said she used to have a tent, but the city won’t allow it any more. How ridiculous, I said.
She can’t stand the homeless shelters, she told me — too many people, she can’t get any sleep there. Crowds makes her very anxious. She confessed to me that her sense of confinement in closed-in places comes from an abusive ex-husband who kept her captive in their basement, tied up for months. I told her I could see how that would do it.
I sometimes feel the same about crowds, I said, and even occasionally get anxious in a grocery store line. Two homeless men standing near us joined in our conversation, saying that they felt the same way. One, a nice-looking and well-spoken man in his twenties, said he used to play baseball in college, and when he was on the field looking up at a crowd of tens of thousands of people, it was fine, but he could never stand to be IN the crowd. The other young man, also attractive and neatly-dressed, said he always wanted to sit at the rear of restaurants with his back to the wall. “Me too!” I told him, “Paranoia strikes deep.” We laughed at our common affliction.