[We are starting a series of blogs simply intended to narrate life with/as the vulnerable in our neighborhood and community. This post is from Sylvia Broome who is a staff member with Church on the Street primarily serving with women.]
I’ve been doing Parish Walks for about three years so I am very familiar with our neighborhood. A few weeks ago I saw four women who were new to the area. They were standing with some men on Courtland Street who are known to be drug dealers. Over the next several weeks I made sure that I spoke to them when I was out walking. At first there was not much interaction between us, however after about a week of daily contact and light conversation, things became comfortable enough for me to invite them to coffee. All four agreed and seemed very interested.
A few days later I saw one of the women walking along Peachtree Street, several blocks from the shelter. She and I spoke for a little while and she reminded me about the coffee date. After we talked a while I told her that I would come by and pick them up the following Wednesday.
That Wednesday I walked over by the shelter where they usually hang out and spoke with one of the women. She was the only one of the four there. She was friendly until I reminded her that I was there to take her and her friends to coffee. She then became very evasive, asking where we were going. I told her Starbucks or Krispy Kreme and that I would go get my car, pick them up and bring them back.
She kept looking at the drug dealers standing nearby and after a few seconds she told me that she would have to “think about it”. Her demeanor was completely different than a few days before. She appeared nervous and downcast.
After overhearing our conversation, a woman I’ve known for a long time walked up and wanted to know where we were going. The woman shouted at her to mind her own business and they began to argue. I excused myself and walked away.
The next day I made a point to walk up to the shelter where I saw the woman again. I came up to her and told her that I was sorry that things hadn’t worked out. I thought I could ease the tension by emphasizing that maybe she hadn’t felt comfortable with the thought of riding in my car, so if she still wanted to go for coffee we could walk. She told me she would think about it and let me know. She had her head down and didn’t make eye contact. There were about 8 men standing with her. Though they didn’t say anything I knew I wasn’t welcome there.
On Monday I again saw the woman on Courtland Street. The same men were there as well as another man that is a well known pimp, whom I have gotten to know a bit over a year and a half. He does not usually hang out in that area and was not as friendly as he had been in the past. The woman who reminded me about the coffee was there and was very friendly. The other woman was withdrawn.
I continue to walk the neighborhood. The ladies have become more conversational but there is still a distance between us. This is not unusual, so I’ll keep trying to establish a relationship with these women. Hopefully they will learn to trust me over time.