He is standing to one side of the Information Desk when I come down to the lobby of the shelter where I work.
"There's a man here who wants to know more about what we do," said one of our security personnel when they phoned me in my sixth floor office to ask if I would come down to speak to him.
He is wearing a dark suit. Blue tie. Carrying a small black leather portfolio.
I approach and offer my hand, introduce myself. "How can I help you?" I ask.
He grasps my hand. Looks around nervously. A man, obviously under the influence, clutching a blanket stumbles by on his way to Harm Reduction, our Intox area where at night 220 individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol will sleep. During the day, we keep it open to provide those who need it a safe and warm place to crash, to come down, to sleep off whatever ails them.
My visitor cannot know where the man is going. He's never been here before.
"Is there somewhere we can talk," he asks. His voice is quiet. Soft. A Hispanic lilt carries the words towards me. He looks around him again. "A little more private?"
I don't know yet why he wants to talk to me, to ask about our services. When the call came in I was in the middle of working on a presentation I had to give later that afternoon for a Foundation that was coming in to learn more about our art programming. We are hoping they'll provide some funding. I am busy. I wonder if he is a student doing a class report, or a possible meal sponsor not sure how to go about the process of sponsoring a meal.
I lead him to an alcove on the main floor where it is quiet and out of the way.
"What is it you would like to know?" I ask him. I am curious. His discomfort is contagious. He's nervous and hesitant all in one.
He looks down at the floor before he speaks. "Well, I just want to understand how your operation works."
"Are you a reporter?"
He sighs. He looks at me. His dark eyes pleading silently. "No. I think I need to come and stay here and I want to know what I need to do."
I feel my heart break, a sadness descend upon my shoulders. I want to hug him. To tell him he'll be okay. But I don't know that. I don't know what is happening for him, in his life, with him, around him. I only know, whatever is going on has lead him here, to the place of last resort, a place he never imagined when he immigrated to this land that he would be.
"You don't have to do anything, " I reply, keeping my voice as normal as possible. "You just have to come to our door and sign in. When do you think you might come?"
"I'm not sure. Soon. I have to organize some stuff. See what happens later this afternoon where I'm living now." He is speaking in a rush now. His words tripping to get out. "I have my stuff. I can bring it, yes? I need to pack it all up and then..."
And then he stops. His eyes glisten with tears. His voice falters. His body slumps.
"You will get a locker. It's not huge but you'd be amazed what people can cram into it. And there are three meals a day and snacks and staff will help you. Are you frightened of coming here?" I ask.
He nods his head silently. Doesn't look me in the eye. Looks back down at the floor.
"It's okay. To be frightened. I was just coming to work here. It's okay." I touch his arm. "Would you be willing to speak to one of our counsellors? They'll be able to give you more information and perhaps to help you get through whatever you're going through right now?"
He nods his head again.
I see A.B. one of our counsellors walk through the lobby just behind us. "Come with me," I tell him. "We might be lucky and find one of them is in between clients right now."
We go back into the lobby, I find A.B. and introduce him to the man and quickly explain the situation. "Can you spend some time with Jose? Help him look at his alternatives?"
A.B. quickly says, yes. "Can you give me a couple of minutes just to finish off with the situation I'm dealing with?"
Jose nods his head. I say good-bye. I want to give Jose a hug, to reassure him, to tell him everything will be alright. I touch his arm, look into his eyes and say, "A.B. will help you. I wish you well."
And I leave. Back to my office where I sit and feel the tears crowding up against my eyes. I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to tilt the world and let all the badness and sadness and meanness and callousness and cruelty and ugliness slide off. I want to change our axis so that only good things happen. I want to shake our world up. To rid it of homelessness and violence and addictions and abuse and mental illness and disease and and the drugs that are tearing our world apart.
I want to do so much and all I can do is help one man find someone to listen. Find someone to guide him as he comes to this place he never dreamt he'd ever be.
It is never enough that I do. But if I do nothing, I will never feel I have done whatever I can to create a more caring, kinder, healthier world. I must do something and so I do what I can and sometimes, a man walks in and the tears come and I must let them flow. In their flowing is the gift of knowing, I am not alone. In this place there are hundreds of people who care. In this place where those who are lost and afraid, those who have run out of options, those for whom there is no other place to be, have a safe and caring place to come.