Anthony came into the Day Center this week, the first time I'd seen him since last spring.
Something was off.
He has always been thin and his face has the slightly rearranged look of an old injury that had settled in place. The difference was, I had never seen him without his hat—a broad, black flat-brim that, with his dog and the cowboy-boot roll of his walk, identified Anthony from a block away.
In the spring, he gotten the key to an apartment. He was never a grump before, but each day he came for his mail you could see how having his own place had lifted him. He said walking in and closing that door was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
That expression, too, was missing.
I asked about the apartment. How it was going.
Another good thing gone.
He had done what others in his situation do, allowed in some people. In the supported housing, it's against the rules but when a man finally experiences a little good fortune, it's hard to say no to people left in the leaky boat he just escaped.
But those friends haven't done the same work to get off the street and often they bring the street with them. The man and woman emptied his bank account and took advantage of him in other ways. Anthony lost the place, less than a year in.
A big heart is a huge risk in these situations. People who have lived unsheltered for a long time have often had to let their boundaries go. They've shared space and meals and cigarettes and clothes with all kinds of people who might not otherwise be their friends. Part of getting them ready to move into housing includes alerting them to the pitfalls of good fortune. But compared to the other dangers they've faced, giving someone a couch to sleep on may feel like a long-due kindness.
He said the housing authority was understanding. He was looking for new apartment now, but he needed a place that would take his dog.
I hope next time I see the hat.