I am a Baltimore inner city native. Raised on the streets I’ve seen the filth and sadness of our city; I’ve been in fights, slept in alley ways, and begged for food. I have also seen the kindness and beauty that permeates Baltimore.
Almost a year ago, I wondered into the parking lot and courtyard of the Franciscan Center. Not many people know that there is a lush little spot between Maryland Avenue and Howard Street where the grass is soft and green and there are trees that bloom in the spring and provide shade to the summer heat.
I had only expected to stay the afternoon; maybe get a meal and try to nap a little in the sun. That sunny soft grass felt like heaven when I lay down to rest a bit. Really, I didn’t mean to sleep all afternoon, but I felt so safe. You can imagine how surprised the employees were when, after closing the Center for the day, they found me sleeping under a tree. I had expected them to run me off or at least get upset, but they didn’t. Instead, to my own shock, one of them spoke kind words to me and scratched me behind the ear. How long had it been since someone was that kind to me?
They didn’t tell me to leave or get mad that I was a little dirty, so I decided to stay the night. The streets can be scary and it was only for one night.
I admit that the next morning when the employees started to arrive I was nervous. I stood there, next to the stairs to the Center and found that I was shaking a little. I was afraid. But I found that I also wanted to trust. I just about fell over when a woman bent down and opened a can of the best smelling food I’ve ever seen. She even had a bowl hiding in her bag. I know it was a little rude of me, but I ate the whole thing in under a minute.
That was the beginning. Since then the people who work at the Franciscan Center have taken me in. I’m no longer living on the streets. They give me food and water every day; I’ve put on a pound or two. They even made a little door in the storage shed where my bed is now. This past winter they gave me extra blankets and on a really cold night one of them showed up and put pocket heaters under my blankets.
I used to be homeless, but I now live at 101 West 23rd Street. I used to be kicked around and forgotten, but now I have a family who feeds me, loves me and misses me when I’m not around. There are a lot of folks like me in this city. We come in all shapes and sizes. We all feel hungry and forgotten at times. We all have needs. We all want to be loved.
I’ve never had a real bed before; but now I do, I even have my own hairbrush, and a name. They call me Francis. I was told that I am named for a saint who cared equally for all creatures and taught that we should do the same in every way possible. I am grateful, and in my own way I try to honor the work of this great saint. It isn’t always easy; I find it especially hard to be kind to the mouse that lives around the corner. But I keep trying.