Saturday, December 14, 2013

Under the bridge, across the road

This week I visited a family that lives deep within a labyrinth of human warrens underneath a bridge in the centre of the city. The mother is fighting to keep the family together and I went with George (with whom I visit the youth prisons from time to time) to help them with their documents and to try to find the older son who was just released from prison, but upon arriving home went straight to the street to live and serve his cocaine addiction.

After meeting in the family home, we went (together with her two younger sons) to an occupied park that was home to an eclectic mix of hobos, adolescents and entire families. A toddler played in the filth beside a man and woman slumped on a mattress, sucking on a plastic bottle of something. Countless men and women were passed out in their own detritus. Grim scenes difficult to witness and even more difficult to describe.

As the mum took the scene in, her face become more and more contorted with grief. He’s living here? He can’t live here. He can’t carry on like this. I want him at home - close. There is room. What kind of example is this for his younger brothers? 

But that particular burden of guilt is not to be borne by the boy, I thought. That’s a father’s role, not an older brother’s. He has to take responsibility for his own addiction before he can be responsible for others.

In one sense, I can understand a young man’s frustration on returning from prison (where you’re treated largely as filth) to a home which is itself filthy and cramped and has rules. And the drug addiction is of course ancillary to the primary addiction to the street. But what can - as a boy - seem utterly unbearable at the time (the lack of privacy, the annoying younger brothers), will be sorely missed when it is replaced by the silence of their loss.

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