Let me introduce Debra Borys, another author who finds her stories in Chicago’s streets. She is the author of Street Stories, a series of suspense novels (Painted Black and Bend Me Shape Me, so far) . Below is the story of how she came to focus her talents on the homeless of the city’s streets.
Words paint pictures, evoke memories and move hearts.
It was late at night and summer when I used to walk the streets of Chicago near LaSalle and Hubbard. I was volunteering once a week with Emmaus Ministries then and accompanied by a staff person. Armed with business cards, we would make sure people without homes knew where they could go for a home cooked meal, clean clothes and conversation.
Before midnight, in great weather, people spill out of the open doors of the clubs, dine at crowded outside tables, and wait in line to catch the next drag queen show. One night, less than two blocks away from Michael Jordan’s restaurant, a black man sat sprawled at the curb, limbs askew, weaving his head in the direction of everyone who walked past ignoring his red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech, and the blood that dripped from his mouth to splash in dusty red dots on the sidewalk.
We found a phone, dialed 911, and waited—helpless, afraid, unsure whether the man understood our assurances—until the paramedics arrived fifteen minutes later. The station was only a block away. The wine bottle the man had broken against the curb to drink from lay in the gutter, empty, neck shards long and lethal like a weapon.
Some people, I got to know by name. Billy was around fifty-five, gray hair matted and dark from sweat and grime, beard grizzled and wild. Usually he was friendly and would joke around, but sometimes his gaze was glazed. When that happened, he told us he sees horrific sights that no one else can see; his fingers shake, and he looks wild, cruel, daring someone for a reason to vent his anger and frustration.
Joseph liked his coffee with extra cream and extra sugar. The zipper on his coat does not quite close and he carries a plastic shopping bag from Aldi’s with the handles tied tight and the corner of a frayed airline blanket poking out from its tightly packed interior. Every month he scrapes together enough money to pay for a small storage area somewhere. He fills the space with books he finds or buys from the second-hand stores.
At the Night Ministry bus, Gus stuffs packages of cookies in his pockets and asks if we have any clean socks, any hygiene kits, any sandwiches, any more coffee. Anything? He eats with his mouth open and there are always crumbs to clean up after he leaves.
These are examples of the many reasons I chose to write about street people in my STREET STORIES suspense novels. Not to exploit them, or sensationalize homelessness, or advocate social change, but just to engender awareness. If we open our eyes and our ears, what will we see? If we open our hearts, what can’t we accomplish?
Debra R. Borys is the author of the STREET STORIES suspense novel series. A freelance writer and editor, she spent four years volunteering with Emmaus Ministries and the Night Ministry in Chicago, and eight years doing similar work at Teen Feed, New Horizons and Street Links in Seattle. The STREET STORIES series reflects the reality of throw away youth striving to survive: Painted Black and Bend Me, Shape Me. Her publication credits include short fiction in Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Downstate Story and City Slab.