Yesterday, as I was leaving the family emergency shelter where I work, I noticed a hammock strung between two trees on the grassy area beside the parking lot across the street from our building.
There was someone in the hammock, maybe two. On the grass beneath it was a big black plastic bag and a suitcase. I could only assume the occupant’s worldly possessions.
It struck me that if that hammock was placed in someone’s backyard, its presence would evoke thoughts of comfort, coziness, lazy days of summer spent idly swinging back and forth.
Yesterday, the sight of it made me feel sad.
To have your whole world in a shopping bag. To hang your hammock, your home without a home, in a tree along a busy downtown avenue. To lie in your hammock hoping no one steals your belongings.
It just feels so sad to me. So distressing. So disturbing.
In the homeless-serving sector, we are faced every day with people whose lives are in disarray. Whose best efforts have lead them to the place they never wanted to be. Homeless.
And, just when you think you’ve seen or heard it all and encountered every aspect of this condition called homeless, you see something you never imagined.
In this case, a hammock strung between two trees on a busy downtown avenue.
I wondered about the person or persons in that hammock. What made them choose that spot? How did they get there? What resilience do they have that gave them the forethought to carry a hammock? How will they get home?
I thought about calling the DOAP team, a mobile response unit in Calgary that is operated by Alpha House to support individuals on the street who are in distress.
But the individual(s) in the hammock weren’t in distress. And they weren’t causing a disturbance.
I chose to let them be. To not disturb the delicate ecosystem they had created in that spot.
And still, the image of that hammock strung between two trees haunts me.
It is so intentional in its placement yet also a contradiction. Hammocks belong in backyards, not on busy downtown avenues.
I wonder if it will be there this morning when I arrive at work.
I wonder if in stringing that hammock between two trees they found respite from the hostile environment that a city can represent to those experiencing homelessness.
I hope the night treated them well.
I hope they came in for a meal. That between our shelter staff and the staff at the adult singles shelter next door, they found what they needed to be safe.
And if the hammock is still there, I will check with staff to see if they have already checked on their welfare. Because a hammock on a busy downtown avenue is not a sign of blissful peace.
It’s a sign that something is amiss in someone’s life.
Yesterday, I missed the sign and chose to walk on by.
Today, I’ve awoken.