Living near Lake Michigan means that we can drive around the ovals almost every day to enjoy the beautiful big lake, the grassy dunes, and all the birds and animals. But sometime last spring, we noticed something else: a grubby white van parked along the roadway, and it was there every day. When the area is dark but not yet closed, you can see a the guy's silhouette as he sits in his van and watches a small tv. After 11:00 p.m, the park is closed and the van is gone. But the next day it would be right back. All summer, the van sat there with open windows, near the porta-john that stays there during the beach-user season. When I walked on the boardwalk, sometimes I would see the homeless guy. He is young, in his twenties probably, and has a ratty nest of Robinson Crusoe-looking long hair. Once he smiled and nodded at me, and I thought that was kind of a nice, friendly thing to do. For awhile, his back side windows seemed to be missing, and he put a sheet of wood over the opening. One day, Fritz saw him take an old, broken card table off our garbage bin on the curb and put it in his van, and we wondered: would he fix it and sell it, use it, strip the metal and sell it, give it to someone who ran a used furniture business, or maybe take part in a yard sale? After a few weeks, his window was fixed.
The police cruise that area constantly, as do the summer park rangers, and they apparently find no harm in his being there. I don't see any harm or threat to the public, but I wonder what harm there is to him. I would really like to know his story. But there is a part of me that just doesn't want to get involved. Because frankly, I am a little afraid of what makes people homeless. And, if it were me living that way, I would only want the kind of help I could go and get myself. I would not want curious, well-meaning strangers rapping on my car window. I imagine when he opens his window, the smell would gag me. I don't even want to think about what he does on these bitterly cold winter days when he has to use a bathroom. And I wonder how a vehicle, even if he ran the engine occasionally, could possibly keep him warm enough to make it okay for him to be there in that situation.
When Thanksgiving rolled around, I wondered if he went somewhere to enjoy a good dinner. When Christmas rolled around I wondered if he visited family, had a good meal, got any presents, went to a church? I wonder, is he an ex-con, an urban Henry David Thoreau, a sex-offender, mentally ill, a drug-user, a violent anti-social misfit, or is he an angel testing our compassion, waiting to see what society will do? Why is he there? He makes me so aware of my blessings. And he makes me feel guilty for not getting involved. He makes me regret being a coward, and about the time I regret that, a part of me that is just as strong tells me that he would not want watered down people like me getting involved.
There is white van parked down by the lake with a homeless guy in it. And there is nothing I can do about it.