Each week I travel the roads of Chicago, another layer of life on the streets seems to reveal itself. This past week, I witnessed the slavery of a young woman within prostitution. Amber, 19, was leaning into car on the corner of W. Jackson and S. Desplaines in front of a 7-Eleven. Within a few moments, she reached into the car and then stepped back onto the curb. Back on the sidewalk, she counted some money and within moments another man came and took it out of her hands. Assumedly her pimp, also homeless. She then got into the car, and it pulled away even before she had closed the car door.
I parked the bus just past where this car had pulled away, and started to distribute needed items to the homeless men gathered around the street corner. After about fifteen minutes, the same car pulled back up and the young woman stepped out and walked over to the bus. From my perspective, she was just a child. Innocent in features, but clearly mature in injuries. She needed new shoes, undergarments, hygiene items and food. As she filled her backpack, the other homeless man had arranged for another trick. He snapped his fingers and she quickly zipped up her new belongs and hustled toward a waiting car that similarly sped away.
I resumed disturbing items to the others as a larger crowd had gathered; some needed sleeping bags and wound care.
As what I expect is her routine, Amber stepped back out of another car and rejoined the group. Within a few moments, she approached the bus again and asked if I was a doctor. “No, I’m not; but what might you need,” I relayed.
“Well, I was just wondering a few things; wondering, about getting pregnant.”
“Do you think you might be pregnant, “I asked?
“No, I can’t be. I’m not getting my cycle so I couldn’t be pregnant. You can’t get pregnant if you’re not getting your period, “she relayed. She also believed that she’s protected from getting HIV or other AIDS based on her lack of menses. This said, embarrassment seemed to wash over her as she knew she lacked a basic understanding of health. Thankfully, all remained calm for the next thirty minutes and Amber and I talk about basic reproductive health and disease prevention; all under the watchful eye of her hustler. As I started to ask if you’d be willing to go to a women’s shelter and then as I started to plead that she get somewhere safer, anywhere safer; the older man acting as her pimp grabbed her by the arm and yanked her away and they both walked briskly down an adjacent alley. I didn’t know if I should follow them, but there we’re more homeless coming toward the bus looking for some kind of relief. For obvious reasons, I didn’t include a picture of Amber but of the others around that night.
Most of my encounters are brief and passing in nature, and I only hope that I’m put in the path of those I’m in the best position to serve. That service may be for needed items, friendship during someone’s final breath or perhaps as in the case of Amber, basic and potentially lifesaving education.
Like footprints on the beach that wash away with each wave, I wonder if these outreach efforts will have any effect. Deep down though, I know that answer is yes. There’s nothing incidental about God’s plan; and we’re all placed where we’re most needed…whether we are cherub or fiend; or perhaps both.