Last week when I went into the locker room and turned on the lights, I realized that someone was already in there. In the dark. Locked up in the larger-sized disabled shower stall. They had lots of things lying on the floor in there, I could see under the stall door. There was also an electric cord coming out from under the door, plugged into an outlet on the wall. It was pretty obvious this person planned on being there for a while.
As I ran that morning, I pondered this person. Maybe a student who’d had a fight with her roommate and needed a temporary place to sleep? A student who’d been evicted from her apartment? I thought about who to call to get this person help. IPF? Student Affairs and Services? Someone who could point them to the services they needed and especially to make certain they were okay. I didn’t end up calling anyone that day. I mean, maybe she was just resting for a while.
She was still there by Monday. Same situation, all her stuff stacked around in the stall. I could hear her in there sniffing her nose occasionally, moving around. I went about changing and hurrying out to the track, again wondering who she was, knowing I needed to call someone, DPS maybe. And then after my run, as I went to step into my shower stall, she came out of the large stall, and I saw her face.
She wasn’t a student. She was an elderly homeless person. She’d found a warm place that even had water and toilets. She was living in there. She obviously needed help. I called DPS and they said they would come check on her.
Yesterday, she was still there. She was taking a shower in the morning when I went in to change for my run. I called DPS again. They were in the locker room for quite a while with her. It was obvious she’d resisted leaving. They walked her out and I saw her face. She looked confused, agitated, alone. They walked her to the door. Three officers carrying her stuff – a blanket and a few other odds and ends. Probably all she owned in the world.
I ran, then showered. I got into my nice clean clothes. Then I got into my car and turned on the heater, sipped from my bottle of water, and started to sing along to the radio. And then again… I saw her face.
As I drove across campus I said a prayer for her – that they would find her a warm place to stay and some food. That she would be safe and feel cared for. Because doesn’t everyone deserve that?
I know I did the right thing. Another woman at the track had told me she had also noticed the woman and had waffled back and forth about whether she should call DPS. And we both agreed that as University employees, we are stewards of MSU. We have an obligation to put our students (and their safety) first.
This homeless woman may have been on drugs. Or she may have not been on drugs that she needed for a mental condition. She might have become agitated if someone confronted her (See this and this). If something had happened to a student, well, not reporting her presence would have been inexcusable. I did the right thing. I know this.
Last night, I came home to my family where we had pizza for dinner and watched a movie, laughing, enjoying being together. I kissed and hugged the kids before they went to their beds. Later, as I lay down in my own bed, I pulled the warm covers up around me and I settled down comfortably to go to sleep.
… And I saw her face.