The metal bunk beds, three tall, with Nano on the middle, Lawyer Joe on bottom and the top bunk used for storage, shook as Lawyer moved below. Then a blue light popped on and Nano knew Lawyer was unable to sleep in the steaming, oppressive heat of the warehouse. As the computer screen came up Nano tried to not think of the sweat rolling off his body onto his soaked sheets. For a homeless man he’d been relatively clean when he went to bed, but by morning he’d smell like he’d slept in a tub of sweat. Sighing unhappily, he looked at his wet t-shirt hanging on the bed trying to dry in the breeze created by a nearby fan. It was over a hundred degrees inside the warehouse, very humid and it would take all night for the shirt to dry. In the morning he’d put the shirt on for the fourth day along with the drying denim pants. He would be leaving the shelter as the sun crested the horizon, already looking for someplace to go inside and escape the coming heat. The sooner Admiral Nano found a cool place for the rest of the day the less sweating he’d do. Life for the homeless was a matter of sweat management, avoiding heat stroke and dehydration. A quick ‘bird bath’ somewhere Nano wouldn’t be discovered would be a luxury. It was a ridiculous, sad lifestyle Nano had chosen.
“Lawyer”, Nano ask leaning out from his bunk to see the man. “What time is it?”
“About 2:30am” was the response. “I can’t sleep in this heat. I’m gonna use my computer a bit and hope it cools down a couple degrees. Maybe it’ll drop below a hundred in here.” Lawyer returned to staring at the screen where numbers on a spreadsheet highlighted the Wall Street data he studied.
Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois, with the second largest homeless shelter, usually about 150 people, not counting another facility where families lived. Sometimes over two hundred could be found at the shelter. The warehouse was not where ‘guests’ were normally found sleeping or eating. Guests was the term given to the homeless by the church driven charity this shelter was based on. The main facility where homeless would normally eat and sleep was under repair, long over due. It’s ventilation system was being fixed so that a hundred men sleeping side by side on the third floor on thin, filthy pads laid on a dirty floor might have it a bit better there than had been the case for quite a while. Unfortunately, instead of scheduling the work for late winter, perhaps April, when the coldest of winter had passed and the heat of summer had yet to arrive, the work was now taking place in high summer, when the highest temperatures could be expected. During the winter the homeless are exposed to below freezing temperatures by being outside all day long. Protection involves adding layers of clothing. Getting inside a McDonalds or the library when the shelter wasn’t providing shelter for hours a day is also crucial. Strange that it should fall to businesses to do what the shelter sometimes won’t do. It is easy enough to add layers of clothing to counter being cold, but in the current heat wave around the Chicago area, one could only take off so much clothing. The men lay in their underwear at night getting little sleep, enduring till morning and commanded to get up. Then they’d eat whatever cold breakfast was available before leaving to find more shelter some where cool like a McDonalds or the Aurora Library.
But despite it’s large size, Aurora, Illinois has a busted economy, a result of the national recession and typical of most cities and states. The citizens of Aurora are almost entirely unaware of the hardships the nearby shelter and their ‘guests’ were coping with. ‘Guests’, as if the homeless were at a hotel with showers, clean bathrooms and beds. It was an unfunny choice of word to describe those dependent on charity to keep from starving or being naked. True, the local residents had their own problems, but only the generosity of the shelter’s founding churches and others who’d come to help since that time made the shelter possible. ‘Normals’ had their own blinders on.
Nano got up to get a drink of water out of a water jug near the open truck doors that were the entrance to the warehouse. Nano wasn’t quite sure what had been stored at the warehouse. It had been unused for many years till the current dilemma forced the homeless into it. Many legal permits were rumored to have been waived by Aurora officials in order to put the homeless in the warehouse. It was a filthy, dirty, awful place to be. Despite well-meaning cleaning efforts, it was nasty. The actual main shelter had been designed to be an incinerator unit for Aurora. It looked to Nano, judging by the dark soot on every surface of the warehouse, as if the burned contents of the former incinerator unit had been transported across the street to be stored at the warehouse. Perhaps then the burned remnants were then hauled out from the concrete loading platform, or what Nano sometimes called the ‘veranda’. The homeless could not walk on the concrete floors within the warehouse without getting their feet very black with ‘soot’ left everywhere. It covered the walls and windows to the degree you could not see through them. It was pervasive and probably one of those ignored health hazards the city had waived in order to put the homeless men here for as long at it the repairs across the street took.
The warehouse had no internal bathrooms. It had no water fountains, food services, heating or air-conditioning that worked. It did have bad lighting and overall was what one would expect of a bug-laden, unused old building that had gone neglected for many years. Nano, an admirer of history, likened it more to a German internment camp of earth’s last world war. But that of course was unfair to those that had suffered such wartime locations. The water jug was empty. Nano decided to visit one of seven portable toilets that over one hundred men used regularly and located a short distance away from the warehouse near the nature trail running near the warehouse. The public hiked or biked all day past the warehouse where the homeless lived. Nano often felt like a zoo animal as the public stared down upon the denizens of the dirty warehouse. The portable toilets were emptied once per week. Infested with flies and nearly full to the brim Nano tried hard not to breath or smell and made his exit as soon as possible. He wore only boxers and some slip-on shoes and when finished relieving himself, strode the rocky, muddy dirt back to the warehouse.
Returning to his sweaty bed he laid down once more. Nano thought about Aurora, the shelter, ‘normal’ citizens and the homeless citizens. Nano was on earth to experience how the lowest class of humankind lived in what was at this time supposed to be the most advanced nation on earth. Mankind had some strange priorities.