AP --- A _0
-w- *- -.- .
man, Antonio, walked into the dining area with a friend and
stumbled into another patron and his meal. The latter was
less than pleased and reacted loudly. The volunteer seating
Antonio apologized on his behalf and hard feelings subsid-
ed. Upon being seated, Antonio immediately asked the same
volunteer whether he might get an "alcoholic beverage." He
had to settle for juice.
Not long after, a woman sitting in the booth behind the
man turned around, flashed him a smile and patted him on
the head. People speak to one another from opposite sides of
the room, shake hands, refer to one another by name. These
people are not strangers, and they don't seem lonely. "We're
here for the free food," they all say.
The more one listens, the more it becomes clear that this
is more than a random collection of individuals. This is not a
random gathering of "homeless and lonely individuals." It is
a distinct community.
Gilbert, Aaron, Anne and David sit at a booth. Except
David, they are all Army or Navy veterans. David is currently
a paid bell ringer for the Salvation Army. They appear to be
in their 40s or 50s. Anne and Aaron, who have been peri-
odically homeless, now live together in a shared apartment
and work at Value World. They've come to Cottage Inn for
years. It's like a family reunion. "Now we just come to see
what faces we'll recognize, you know?" Anne says. The free
food doesn't hurt, either.
Anne sees a reporter's camera and asks, "Did you get a shot
of that guy falling into the table?" They all laugh. "That was
Antonio," she says, and everyone at the table smiles wryly.
"They'll probably scrape him off of the sidewalk within the
next few hours," Aaron says. Apparently this is the routine.
At first it seems like a coldhearted thing to say. Then again,
Anne and David (far left) chat over coffee while others eat. A volunteer hurries to get someone a refill. The man at the center table
asked if there were any nearby liquor stores that were open for the holiday. He was visibly drunk. It was 1:26 in the afternoon.
Antonio is already falling, the sun has hardly crested, and he
is in pursuit of more alcohol.
How did Anne and Aaron meet? "At St. Andrews," they
reply in unison. St. Andrews is an Episcopal church on N.
Division Street that serves free breakfast every morning
from 7:30 until 8:30. It seems many relationships are forged
there over breakfast and coffee.
Where else do people meet and hang out? "Borders, West
Park, the University libraries ... everywhere," Aaron says.
"You get to know people on the street. If you go to the librar-
ies a lot, you'll start seeing some familiar faces."
They're not wealthy, but they are certainly not alone. And
at Cottage Inn on Thanksgiving, there's room for everyone at
the dining room table.
M University Unions
League a Pierpont a Union