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Concrete Jungle

As The Day Is Long

Jay Sandler

By Jay Sandler | Posted 10/1/2008

Prices are up. The economy is down. Jobs are being outsourced to Asia, people are being laid off or replaced by machines. Houses are being foreclosed. And more people than ever are finding themselves turned out on the streets, poor, helpless, homeless.

Once banished to life on the street, though, you quickly learn to adapt to the rough conditions. Every day out there, no matter the season, is long--some are hot and sweaty, others wet and cold. Still, you will do the same things every day to stay alive: eat in the same places, stay at the same shelters, walk the same streets every day in an endless cycle, without any break or vacation.

A typical day of a homeless person starts like this: If you are "camping out"--sleeping on the street--you will only find a few hours of sleep because it will mostly likely be interrupted by police sirens and traffic noise. Chances are, the sounds of morning traffic will have you up at 5 or 6 a.m.

If you are staying in a city shelter, the staff will wake you up at 4 a.m. After you tear down your cot, a bus will bring you to the Our Daily Bread employment center on Fallsway, and there you wait, from 5 until 7, until they serve you breakfast. After breakfast, you will probably wait for lunch, which starts at 10:30 a.m. at most places. Expect a wait, though: You will be standing in lines every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The bright side is that even the homeless have some lunch choices. There are a number of different places around town that offer free meals: Our Daily Bread, Beans and Bread in Fells Point, Paul's Place in Pigtown, Manna House in Barclay, and the Franciscan Center on West 23rd Street. Most of these places serve until 12:30, when, after a cool, air-conditioned lunch break, you head out into the streets again until the evening.

In summer the afternoons are long and very hot, and as the day wears on, you have to decide where you will spend the night. If you sleep on the street, you have the freedom to move about and do what you like. But the streets are not always safe, and many homeless find themselves victims of violent crimes. So you might choose instead to spend the night at one of the city's missions, which take in overnight guests beginning at 4 p.m. Some of the missions offer really nice dinners and showers for everyone who comes through the door; in exchange, though, you'll have to pray. Joining the religious services is mandatory if you want to crash at a mission.

If you can't get a spot at a mission, or if you just don't want to join the services, you can try for a spot in one of the city-run shelters. In order to do so, you must meet up with about 250 other homeless folks at 6:45 p.m. underneath I-83, at Fallsway and Hillen Street. You'll be served dinner from a truck and wait for a bus that will take you to one of two shelters where you can get a shower, put up a cot, and sleep just long enough to recuperate from being out in the elements all day long.

You'll be in bed early--by 8 or 9. But believe it or not, you'll be glad to get some rest and peace by that hour, after your long day outside. Morning comes fast--before you know it, it's 4 or 5, and it's time to get up and prepare for another long day on the streets of the city.

Concrete Jungle is an occasional column about homelessness in Baltimore. You can contact Jay Sandler at

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