A brand-new Skids inductee, Joey looks like hell. All day long, he’s been in the courtyard of the Midnight Mission on San Julian and Sixth streets, sitting on a pile of duffel bags stuffed with his family’s belongings. I saw him in the exact same spot for the first time about a week ago.
Haggard and frustrated, nails chewed to the quick, the tall 14-year-old kid with short black hair and bags under his eyes stands out from the rest of the shelter-seekers in the courtyard. Almost all of them are old enough to be Joey’s parents or even his parents’ parents. Most are filthy. Some are loud and aggressive. Mixed in are a couple of “undercover” hustlers hiding out from someone or something. Others are just strung-out in a holding pattern at the bottom. All appear to be in need of a bath and a good 10 years of intensive psychiatric treatment, and even then, you probably wouldn’t want to leave them unsupervised around the kids.
Joey’s 5-year-old sister, Karina, dressed in a new set of faux–Juicy Couture pink sweats, is oblivious to the battle zone. She picks one of her “babies” from a stroller packed full of clothes and toys. Her baby is a ragged white doll with blue eyes and ratty blond hair, which she holds up for my inspection. “My baby,” she says. I tell her that her baby is pretty and Karina beams a big, wide smile. Joey takes notice and hands me a bottle of water from one of his bags, smiles and says hello. It’s a small kindness from a sweet kid in a tough spot.
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He’s been through this before. They’re going to stay in the “safe sleep” tonight — the “high tolerance” emergency sleeping area in the day room at the Midnight Mission. The arrangement is called Project Safe Sleep. There, you can crash out on one of the little cots with all the other homeless people and presumably no one will rob or rape you, and there won’t be any rats crawling across your ankles. It’s relatively clean, but it’s stinky and creepy and dank and God only knows what airborne contagions are floating around.