The Diary of a Temporarily Homeless St. Louis Prosecutor
11:30 p.m. Despite my coat, gloves, three pairs of socks and my Elmer Fudd hat, I'm cold and uncomfortable. I put on my headphones, listen to an audio book and try to doze off.
1:30 a.m. I wake up. My nose is frozen. I'm going to have to sleep with my face in the sleeping bag. The ground is so hard. It's impossible to get comfortable. I look at the stars and try to relax.
3:00 a.m. I wake up. Lots of street noise. Was that a gun shot in the distance? I check the time. Two more hours. The novelty of this experience has definitely worn off.
3:50 a.m. I notice that ice crystals have formed on my sleeping bag.
Honest-to-goodness ice crystals.
4:15 a.m. Kevin and I almost get run over by a television truck getting in position to tape the sleeping group. I'm rethinking our strategy of being on the end of the row. There is no way I am falling back to sleep now. Too dangerous.
5:15 a.m. Even though there has been no official wake up call, I notice some of my fellow sleepers are rising and packing up. Kevin and I decide to do the same. We stash our sleeping bags and join the folks inside. I feel exhausted, but happy that we've made it through the night. I'm keeping the Elmer Fudd hat on because I know I have major "hat head" at this point.
5:45 a.m. Having coffee and visiting with some of the resident kids. They can't believe we slept outside while they slept in warm beds. They present me with a framed photo of me talking with a young man the night before and some handwritten notes from the young folks in our roundtable.
6:00 a.m. We head back, hoping we make it in time to let our four dogs out.
6:30 a.m. Back home, I lie down in our bed for an hour before heading to work. Physically, I feel like crap. Spiritually, I feel overwhelming gratitude for my bed, my home, my family, my job and for having an opportunity to experience one tiny bit of what so many St. Louis kids face every day.
So what did I learn? As an elected official, this type of event expands my view of the community I serve, which is essential. As a prosecutor, my role is straightforward. We hold offenders accountable based upon the laws and evidence available. We don't make charging decisions based upon the hardship of defendants or the background of victims. As a citizen, however, this event was profound for me. I found it challenging to spend the night out on the street, knowing my experience was nothing compared to the sustained loneliness and terror that homeless youth face.
I have a new empathy and understanding of these beautiful kids who just need adults who care about them. Kevin and I care, and we are both committed to volunteering with Covenant House Missouri. I look forward to our return.