Focus on Baltimore
The night of Thursday, March 24, was quite an experience for those of us taking part in the “urban plunge”, a National Coalition for the Homeless project to give college students the experience of living homeless, on the streets.
As we, Community for Creative Nonviolence (CCNV) resident and case manager Donald Brooks, seven students from the University of Kansas and I were preparing to settle in for the night, a complaint came in to the secret service about our being too near the embassies on Dupont Circle. When the first police care approached, Brooks and I took immediate action and approached the officers. But as I advanced toward them to explain what we were doing there, one officer panicked and did a reverse goose step, with his hand on his service weapon. I raised my voice in such a way as to get his attention, to get him to listen to what I was saying. Eventually he did calm down to hears us out, and as he and his partner approached, and we explained further. But, minutes later, other police cars came up on us. I guess the supervisor was in one of them. And, again, we explained, why we were there and what we were doing. They clearly understood, but asked us to move further down from the embassies and do our plunge there.
The students were impressed by my move to confront the officers the way that I did, since I am not a very big person and the officers were clearly armed.
But I have learned over the years to never back down from any man no matter how big he is, or who he is, or how tough he seems. Of course the police use their voice of authority to gain control of a situation, but being an ex-military man, I have a bark too, and I think it came as a big surprise to them. I think I had the officers shaking in their boots a bit and of course after it was all over with, Brooks and I just laughed about it. We finally got the Kansas students situated and bedded down for the night. Even now, as I write this, I still have to chuckle about it.
However, I will be sending a letter to the Director of the U.S. Secret Service and I will be informing them that the National Coalition for the Homeless will be conduction similar “urban plunges” from time to time to bring to Washington college students from all over the country to live on the streets and experience life as the homeless do.
And now, from Washington to Baltimore, where on March 18th, I was invited by some students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to tell them about Street Sense and the National Coalition for the Homeless. A reflection group headed by Brian Greenan, a graduate student, who said he was quite interested and, if I may say, quite inspired, by my monthly “Focus on Baltimore” column and by the coalition’s video “The Faces of Homelessness.” My column and the video, it seemed, were windows for them to a life on the streets they probably knew little or nothing about. I would like to thank Street Sense and the coalition for giving me the opportunity to write and speak on behalf of the homeless, as I am sure that I will continue to run into more mishaps, more stories, and more people who have a story to tell from the streets.