Homelessly in Love

On May 15th, 2015 the Washington Post ran an article about a documentary on homeless love which was done by two French women – Lalita Clozel and ArianeMohseni. I was both their guide who helped them to penetrate the homeless community of DC as well as their subject matter expert. The documentary and article bring out what may very well be the greatest epiphany of our time: We all need love – yes, even the homeless. Who would ever imagine that homeless people like to give and receive love? As with other populations, there are good and bad people in the homeless community. Some have given their lives to save others or been the only one to show concern for a suffering person while others passed by in droves – too busy to care.

The story began on Sunday, February 8th, one week before my birthday. As a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless and its Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau, I was doing an outreach run during which I led a group of university students through the streets of our capital to give care packages to the homeless and chat with them. As I approached the McPherson Square Subway Station entrance, I saw about a dozen homeless people sitting against the wall and a young lady with a camera in her hand moving among them – sitting between different pairs of people. I instructed my students to mingle with the homeless. Then, in my usual blunt manner, I approached her and said, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”. She explained that she was doing a project about homeless love. I promised to return when I was through with my outreach run. I finished a couple of minutes later and returned.

Lalita finished up her conversation and then walked with me to the sidewalk just outside of the station. I asked her name again and asked for further clarification of what she was doing. At one point I sensed that she might think she was in trouble; so, I assured her that she wasn't in trouble and that I was just a curious homeless advocate with a blunt manner. She did a video interview of me and we spoke for over 30 minutes. We scheduled a lunch at Potbelly's Sandwich Shop (a favorite eatery of mine) a couple of days thereafter during which she told me that a friend of hers would be coming from France in a few weeks.

We hit the ground running on February 15th. Lalita came to my church which opens at 6:30 AM on Sunday and has three-hours worth of activities for the homeless. I introduced her to several people. She immediately began to connect with them and got several people to open up to her about their love lives. I then took her to Franklin Square Park for more of the same. I put her in touch with shelter directors and other homeless service providers and she worked her magic so as to connect with them and abate any fears that she was there to critique them or expose their shortcomings.

On Friday, March 6th, Lalita and I planned to meet at the NCH office where she could interview Michael Stoops and get his perspective on homeless love. When she arrived, she had Ariane with her. We spoke with Michael. Then an Italian intern for NCH named Alessandro joined the ladies and myself and the four of us went to a Starbucks in Du PontCircle – a couple of blocks away. Alessandro had to leave. Lalita had to step away for a few minutes to do a conference call. Ariane and I were left talking to each other; but, the conversation went well and there was never a dull moment therein. As a matter of fact, Lalita (who was always within eye-shot) commended the fact that the two of us had hit it off so well.

Ariane explained that she volunteers at a shelter in Paris and that the shelter has separate sleeping quarters for men and women but a common area where the sexes can meet and mingle. This stood in stark contrast to homeless services in Washington, DC where shelters don't have a common area for the sexes to meet and where not-only-soup-anymore kitchens often have an area for women who don't choose to eat among the men – the latter of which I've spoken against on several occasions. She also told me of an effort in Belgium to create a homeless “love nest” for couples living without homes to make love. I found her and what she had to say to be quite interesting.

Alessandro would accompany us on a couple more occasions and myself on a couple of homeless advocacy ventures before his studies prevented him from doing so anymore. The ladies and I would end up finding many more people to interview, with them having gotten so good at it that they found and interviewed people whom I'd never met -- granted I don't know all 8,000 or so homeless people in the District. I connected them to Street Sense (DC's newspaper about homelessness and poverty) where they found more interviewees and were able to borrow video equipment for the project. They even went with me to a couple of big meetings including the quarterly meeting of the DC Inter-agency Council on Homelessness on March 31st.

My three and a half months with Lalita (thus far) and two and a half with Ariane have had some unintended consequences insomuch as I've come to love them both as dear friends. After all, this project has enabled us to create some robust conversation about something that's very important to me: LOVE. So, it stands to reason that I would "love" my project partners. (I would be less inclined to use the "L" word with male friends, though a few men do.) With me being keenly aware of the uneasiness that Americans often feel when the word “Love” is used liberally, I wasn't sure when or how I might break the news to them -- even though they come from a stereotypically "loving" country.

Then, I began walking down G Street as I left a Palestinian protest that took place in front of the White House on the evening of May 15th, 2015. I noticed that Lalita had sent me a couple of texts that I hadn't responded to. I responded and began walking again. As I got in front of my church moments later, I noticed a woman standing on the sidewalk in the dark. It was Lalita! We discussed a few things including the Washington Post article. She told me about a roommate who hates her. I saw my chance. I told Lalita, “Well, I love you” to which she snickered before saying quite genuinely, “I love you too”.

Though I am currently in a relationship (that, as of 5/19/15, seems to be going the way of my other relationships) and have reason to believe that Lalita may never be my main squeeze, I've watched as she's become more and more comfortable around me and even confided in me. With her having lived in the U.S. since 2010, we may have many opportunities for continued face-to-face friendship. This is the beginning of a beautiful Franco-American friendship (sans Chef Boyardee).

As for Ariane, she'll leave for France on May 22nd and then travel to South America. I'm sure that she'll carry a message of love along with her beautiful and contagious smile wherever she goes. I'm anxious to see what an impact she'll have in Europe and South America. In any instance, people on at least two continents -- North America, Europe and possibly Latin America -- will be able to read about the greatest epiphany of our time: We all need love – even the homeless.

Breaking up?????

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