When I first get to 2100 Lakeside I’m shoved into a cafeteria and fed a shitty dinner that consists of beef steaks, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and of all things goldfish crackers. I enjoy the crackers the most.
While eating I strike up a conversation with a guy I saw waiting for my caseworker over at Cosgrove. The man tells me he’s in the same predicament as I am. He’s from Cleveland but has nowhere to go but here. He’s waiting for tomorrow morning to Talk to a guy named Terry. I tell him I’m waiting for the same thing. He assures me everything will be alright.
The guy says he’s been here before and explains that once dinner is over we wait for our beds and then are assigned mats. I take his word for it and finish my meal.
Outside I bum a smoke off another bum and sit by myself at a picnic table, stressed and anxious, well aware that I could be on the streets at the moment but at least thankful the weather is warm. Considering it’s March and I can survive with just a coat I feel relieved. It’s a small triumph.
An hour passes before I go back into the shelter, completely unaware of what to do. The place is a fucking nightmare. When you walk into the building you immediately are in a room full of bunks and security desk that has no security guards. Past this room is a TV room where people lounge in chairs and watch the news. Outside of this room leads to the main hallway where there is a clusterfuck of men bumming around. From this hallway branches off 2 more bunk rooms, the aforementioned cafeteria, and the bathrooms. In the middle of the hallway are two desks which I assume are the main desks for the building, tho no one is sitting at them.
The hallway ends at another hallway forming a T shape. To the left is custodian closets and to the right is a room full of lockers. On the floor of that room are men lying on mattresses. I see the guy I was speaking to in the cafeteria. He tells me to grab a mat and make a bed for the night. Feeling safe and now with somewhere to go I grab a mattress from a metal rack out on the hallway and make my bed for the night, using my coat for a pillow. Sleep comes easy and I assume everything will be alright… tho this is hardly the truth.
I fall asleep around 8 but am awoken at 10:30 to a big guy who tells me I can’t be in this room. I have no idea what he’s talking about and don’t know what to do but it doesn’t matter. He makes me get up and take the mattress out of the room and back onto the metal rack.
I should add that I’m completely gassed. Between walking all day and the stress of the moment I feel like I can pass out at any moment. But that doesn’t seem to bother the guy.
He brings me out to the main hallway again where I’m told to stand in line of about 10 men, waiting to speak to 2 men who are now sitting at the main desks. I patiently wait my turn, trying not to close my eyes and fall asleep, and am greeted with indifference. I’m told by the guy at the desk that he has to go do something real quick and am left hanging there with no one to talk to. 10 minutes go by before another guy sits down. The dude’s obese and is indifferent as well. I explain my situation but he merely keeps his eyes glued to a smartphone in his hand. I can’t believe he won’t even listen to me.
All in all, I wait about 25 minutes before a different guy comes to the desk and switches seats with the obese man. Finally the third guy listens to my situation and tells me there’s a bunk on the other side of the building I can lay in.
I’m taken to a room full of men and am shown a top bunk. I climb in and fall asleep fast tho my rest is interrupted by a voice in the middle of the night.
It’s now 1 am and the voice asks me how I’m doing. I respond mentally as usual and see my blanket has fallen on the floor. I’m too tired to move but the voice commands me to get out of bed and grab the blanket.
On the floor next to the blanket is a black beanie that must have fallen off the bed of the top bunk next to me. I ignore it but the voice commands me to pick up the hat and keep it for myself. I hesitate but know full well the voice will get what it wants. Rather than argue I pick up the hat along with blanket, get back in bed, and hide the hat in the right pocket of my coat. This action will come to haunt me but I’m too tired to care at the moment. I fall asleep quick and don’t wake up until the lights pop on at 6 am.
I’m told Terry won’t be in until 8 am. Bored and impatient, I leave the shelter for a walk.
Outside it’s chilly but sunny and not too breezy. An avid walker, I find comfort in seeing Cleveland for the first time tho it starts to hit me that I’m on a shitty part of town. I walk from what I later find out is midtown all the way downtown past the theater district that sits in the middle of the downtown.
The architecture amazes me in its beauty, something I’m not accustomed to. Back in Toledo we have rectangular skyscrapers and not much else. Here there’s towers of different shapes and sizes everywhere. It’s all breathtaking and inspiring and gives me hope that I’ve come to a new place for something I wasn’t expecting: a fresh beginning.
Past the theater district I walk past more skyscrapers and finally make my way to the edge of the downtown and stand at the foot of a bridge. As I make my way back the way I came I walk about a indoor mall called Tower City and take a peek inside. It looks warm and comforting but nothing spectacular, just 3 floors of stores. I make a mental note tho to come here again when I need a place to go to get out of the cold.
Back at the shelter I’m told to now wait inside the 1st room of the building that is the room full of bunk beds. I sit in a chair surrounded by other men all waiting to speak to Terry.
We wait for an hour before Terry, a black guy with a mustaches and a pot belly, walks into the room and explains that the server is down and that he’s not sure when it’ll be back up. We’re told to keep waiting, and I feel my impatience start to become unbearable.
Rather than just sit and stare at paint dry, I leave the shelter and head over to Cosgrove for breakfast.
The meal consists of a bowl of oatmeal flavored with water, sugar, and cinnamon, but fills my belly. I’m thankful for the cup of coffee that is provided as well.
Back at the shelter I sit and wait again. Apparently the server is working now and there’s only one other guy waiting. As I sit watching paint dry again a guy with a Jamaican accent hollers at me and asks where I got my hat from. I completely forgot that I picked it off the ground last night and am taken off guard. He asks again and I lie, telling me him I found it off the ground. I hand it to him and he inspects in and calls me a liar. He says he hates liars. I’m afraid and don’t know what to do but just wait.
When Terry finally comes he tells me I need to talk to a guy named Xavier about getting into a bunk at the shelter. Hours go by and Xavier never comes in and rather than wait any longer I get up and leave the shelter and make my way back to Cosgrove for lunch.
Inside, the Jamaican guy whose hat I stole is sitting at a table with a group of guys. He nods at me and points, getting his friends’ attention. They all stare at me and suddenly aware I’m not welcome I leave the building not sure where the hell I’m going to. But I do one thing. If I stay here I’m going to get my ass beat over something I knew was wrong. And that is why I hate the voice and love it. Because stealing that hat is what will lead me to a new home here in Cleveland, one that is kind and accepting and filled with God’s grace. And for that I’m thankful. Tho at the moment I’m afraid.