Sunday: I get a 2am text from a pal, "The local anarchist chapter raised $30,000 to put eighty-five homeless people in hotel rooms during Inauguration Week. Here's the name and phone number of one of the organizers." I have no idea how she, a lesbian film producer, got this information before any of the myriad outreach agencies, but that's Atlanta.
Monday: The organizer (let's call him Raven) is badly understaffed. Sixteen meal shifts scheduled with him as the only volunteer, yet leery of accepting help from religious organizations. We only heard whispers of his effort because homeless folks kept arriving with crude printouts offering free rooms, but with no mention of the organization, contact person, or how to apply except to stand at one of three very dangerous intersections and wait for a van, all of which smelled one lollipop short of a human trafficking scam.
I offer to come in for housing assessments, and after vetting me with trusted sources Raven accepts and I schedule an additional two case managers to join.
On the way home I cruise past the Georgia Capitol building. Two army tanks on this side, but otherwise no sign of the gun-toting nitwits in ski masks that had shown up previously.
Tuesday: Three of us set up shop in a dining hall crammed with coffee cups, old breakfast, and unboxed furniture. Someone is picking a fight by the elevator. All the volunteers have tattoos and ask for my preferred pronouns. Everyone uses street names. No one was aware that Atlanta has a housing provider system in place.
We are given a box of NarCan kits from Arkansas with the best packaging I've yet seen. The busiest woman is a Florida street medic whose boyfriend runs the med bay upstairs, we lob logistics questions at each other before someone asks her for bus fare and then wander away to various tasks.
Clients are variations on a theme: black and schizophrenic, black and escaping domestic violence, black and seeking electrician apprenticeships. We massage documents so they can qualify for state benefits, tell the gay men to check the "single" box so his partner can move in after the lease is signed, and squint at sun-bleached pill bottles.
Toward the end I snag the person-in-charge to summarize what we've done and ask if they want to be connected to other agencies, to which I am given a non-committal "eh" and the assertion that this effort is "rapid response" only and they are sheltering homeless to "fight the fash". We pack and leave the housing sign-up sheet, now covered with crossed-out names and dwarfed by an art supply table.
The organizers and I text via encrypted messages to discuss networking with other agencies, which had been unsuccessful to this point because they hadn't utilized their website, official letterhead, or email, and attempted to contact everyone via Instagram. I make introductions to another housing first agency and start digging around a Catholic clinic to see about boosting their street medicine game.
Too much red wine at dinner. 10 o'clock I get a Zoom call from a local composer who wants to collaborate on a spoken word composition, where he spends the next forty minutes asking me open-ended questions and I improvise poetry in a saddened somnambulant state.
"I have a recurring nightmare about guillotines. My last one was so beautiful, like a Waterhouse painting of Saint Sebastian, the martyr led to his death by pale naked sylphs. Even the blade was unreal. It didn't make a sound, it just...fell, like a curtain of light. I see history repeating itself.
I see history repeating itself, and wonder if we should be extracting art this close to the abyss."