Saturday, February 5, 2011

82 Hours on Pine and Orange

Peter Murphy the host of Orlando Live, an internet video podcast, set himself a mission to raise awareness regarding homelessness in Orlando by spending 82 hours on the corner of East Pine Street and South Orange Avenue downtown. I arrived on day four of his sojourn. At first I didn't notice him, but then I spotted him across the street from City Arts Factory. He had some stubble on his face and his hair was matted. In his pocket was a tiny stuffed toy dog which a little girl had given him for good luck. He was happy to see me and he quickly related everything that had transpired over the last four days. He was about to film another short segment for his show, and I used that time to drop off the food items I had brought inside the City Arts Factory. He confided in me that his notion that food was a top priority had been false. There are a number of spots all within walking distance where homeless are given meals. He discovered that plastic garbage bags to keep things dry and blankets were priorities. He quickly realized sleeping in the empty lot across from the Cite Arts Factory would be a frightening proposition. A homeless man related how he had been awakened with a knife blade planted between his eyes and robbed. He had the scar to prove it.

Peter ended up sleeping in an empty alleyway across from Mad Cow Theater. He said one evening he tried sleeping near a church but a policeman told him to move along. He was also told he could not stand in the empty lot where he began his mission since it was private property and he was blocking pedestrian right of ways. He had a cardboard sign which asked for donations of food for the homeless. Since this is considered panhandling rather than charity, he was told he would have to stand in one of two blue boxes which have been painted on sidewalks for panhandlers. I have never noticed these blue boxes. I'll have to look for them.

Weather had been terrible every night. There was torrential rain and freezing cold temperatures. Peter said he only really got perhaps six hours of sleep total. As I sketched him in front of the City Arts Factory, he would shout out any time he spotted someone who might be homeless. "Hey! Where you headed?" Invariably they would walk over and he would offer them bottled water or some snack food. Everyone was grateful. Within minutes of starting my sketch, a policeman on a bicycle stopped to look at what I was doing. I said hello, but in the back of my mind I imagined him forcing me to stop sketching. He soon left. Peter shouted to me, "Your lucky your good!" I shouted back, speaking for the officer, " Yeah, 'That drawing sucks, move along!" I comically wiped my brow. Large fork lifts laden with kegs and bottled beers kept rolling past me on the sidewalk. One particularly tall stack of beers wobbled threatening to topple over on me.

Two homeless men in particular had helped Peter adjust to life on the streets. Science Dave, wore a pith helmet decorated with silver studs. He once worked for the Science Center but he had been fired. A series of unfortunate incidents landed him on the streets. When he saw I was an artist he started telling me the life story of Toulouse Lautrec. Toulouse is one of my favorite artists, yet Dave knew more about his life story than I did. Pete, in a wheel chair, rolled up to talk to Peter Murphy. He was very soft spoken so to hear him speak, you had to lean in close. When he saw the sketch I had done of him he whispered, " You are blessed." I admired the quick camaraderie that was shown by these people who happen to live on the streets of Orlando.

I only spent maybe four hours watching Peter Murphy greet and share food with people on the street. For him this must have felt like the home stretch in a very long marathon. Between the winds and the constant shadows of the tall buildings it was cold. Peter often blew his breath into his cupped hands. I did the same with my drawing hand. I couldn't imagine trying to sleep on the pavement in the dropping temperatures. Yet some people do that every night. More important than any food offered, Peter bought respect and an honest concern to every homeless person he met. I was moved and humbled. For Peter, this must have been a life changing experience.

4 comments:

Rick said...

Great post about people who we so often ignore. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. what an incredible character.

Colleen said...

so proud of Peter! Amazing sketches and support!

Thorette said...

One evening I walked to my office down to Lake Eola and noticed some people bedding down for the night near the church. It never fails to make me sad although I have no ideas for a solution to the problem. I often wonder why we are involved in such a ridiculously expensive war making people overseas homeless when that money would go a long way towards easing suffering here at home. That would seem real national security to me. The compassion Peter is able to feel for those less fortunate is heartwarming.