Bench Bob died last week. That was not his real name, of course, but having lived most of the last ten years on a bench at the corner of Irving and Keeler, that is what most people called him. He would have been 55 in July, only a few years older than me.
Bob was an intelligent, funny and unassuming man who had a problem with alcohol. He rarely talked about himself and so I am not sure what wounds held him hostage to the cycle of drinking and homelessness. I know he lost his father when he was a young teenager and he lost his mother before he was ready to give her up. I know he had a sister with whom he had not spoken in years. He had been to detox and rehab so many times I lost count. He tried so hard but always ended up back at the corner. Whatever the wounds were, they were deep and they were strong. He never complained or seemed bitter about his life, though. In fact, most of the homeless people I have dealt with seem thankful for what little they have and don’t complain much. I wish I could be more like that…..be more content and grateful for all that I have.
The people of the Irving Park Community tried to be helpful. There were some who paid for a room at the Irving Hotel in the coldest weather. There were some who took him in or bought him meals or encouraged him to try detox one more time. There were some people who were just kind to him.
Homelessness and addiction is a serious problem that is on the rise on the northwest side and the solutions are complex and elusive. Often, finding the resources or services needed to help someone is like going through a complicated maze with endless dead ends. Something needs to be done about that.
The week Bob died, someone had paid for his room at the hotel. No one was with him when he passed away but Bench Bob didn’t die on the street and he didn’t die alone.