Say Hey Billy

A post from five years ago. We’ve lost touch. But I’ve not forgotten.

I saw Billy tonight on homeless outreach. Billy and his friends pulled my older son from his burning car after an accident last year.

There were five of us on the Street Angels bus – two women: the driver (the organization’s co-founder) and me, along with three men, one of them my younger son (not the son who had the accident). It was unusual to have three men on the bus, it’s almost always all women, but it was fun and different. Non-stop talking and a fair amount of swearing.

We drive a 25-stop route through the city. We do a signal beep of the horn at most stops and people surface, gathering at the bus door for a hot meal, bag lunch, and socks. Sometimes, we have underwear, pants, sweatshirts, and coats to give out.

Tonight there were fewer people than usual but several of the notables were out and about including the man who comes to the bus from his encampment singing and smiling, rings on his fingers and a huge smile on his face. His camp is elaborate with a tent and a tarp lean-to, a barbecue grill with a tidy fire burning, various pieces of furniture arranged, and a clock hanging in a tree. The presence of the clock in the tree fascinated me and I tried to take a picture from my perch atop the bridge but it was too dark and the clock too small. On a tall pole outside his camp flies his American flag.

Other stops weren’t so cheery. A man who had fallen and had stitches over his eye, another lame from having been beaten with a pipe by a stranger, women bundled already for winter, needing hand warmers already, another man who has worn the same canvas jumpsuit the entire year. We pondered giving him the canvas overalls and jacket that were in the bus but, no, he would want a new jumpsuit if anything. He didn’t ask, he was fine with what he had. It was us who thought he needed a change. Judging. It’s the scourge of homeless outreach.

It was on our way back to home base that we caught sight of Billy. He was standing at an intersection panhandling. When I heard his name, I leaped up to greet him, reaching through the driver’s side window to hold his hand. I have seen him a couple of times since I met him the day of my son’s terrible accident and each time it feels like a reunion. He knows and I know and somehow it’s a bond.

It was my other son who was with us tonight on the bus and he sat watching me holding Billy’s hand through the window but I didn’t introduce him. There wasn’t time. The light changed and we had to get moving.

2 Comments on “Say Hey Billy

  1. Such an informative and rich description of Street Angels. And, of course, there is so much more to the story. How is it that one incident with one person can forge a relationship that will last a lifetime? Isn’t that the way of it? Story after Story. after Story … THANK YOU, JAN!

    Liked by 1 person

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