by Nora Hudson

Salvationland is a place as great as OZ. Things happen there that don't happen anyplace else. To an outsider it may seem like it is just a big brick industrial warehouse. But to those in the know it is a place to save yourself. The only requirement is that you come. I found out about Salvationland when I left home and had no place to go and no place to be anybody. I was wandering in the street when I saw Jesus. He was screaming and preaching and telling folks the world was about to come to an end. When I first saw him I thought he was just a crazy war vet. I figured he was a war vet because he always wore army fatigues. But he also always wore a suit jacket and a top hat. Just so folk would not get it twisted. He would point to people in the crowd and say, "I got your number." Everyone would laugh at this crazy old bum dressed in army fatigues with a suit coat and a top hat. The top hat was used to collect the money. I laughed too but underneath I was kind of worried because I had worn out my welcome in every home of every person I knew and homelessness was closer than I thought. I wondered where I would spend the night or where my next meal would come from.

I quickly learned that if Salvationland did not provide a service they know where to send you to get it. You know you can survive being homeless. In fact you can meet many people who can be of help to you. The help is not in the place of money but it is knowledge. I swear the people at Salvationland can tell the social workers where to go to get food and some clothing.

I think I know the system pretty well. So just wait and listen. If you need clothes you can go to St. Vincent De Paul main headquarters and get a voucher for clothing. You can go to the University of Detroit to get your teeth fixed and there are many free clinics for everything else. I met many new and different persons. However there were a few that stood up to help me. You will meet many people. Choose carefully those you would invite into your world. It is a dangerous place. Disappearances are common. You are a newby. You need to watch yourself. When we get to Salvationland you are going to have to sign some papers. I hope you are over the age of eighteen or you will have to go to a shelter for youth. I know I told you I was going to tell you about myself but I got to tell you some of the funny stuff that happens at Salvationland.

There was this lady named Sally that came to the shelter. She was dressed just so fancy you would have thought she was one of those women who donated time or money. Turns out this woman is as homeless as me and you but she pretends to be traveling from one location to another. Well when she came in Jesus met her at the door and began his funny preaching. This woman turned beet red, ran out of the shelter and almost never came back. Man I would have liked to hear her story.

At the end of the sermon the crowd started to disburse. Jesus came up to me and said," I got a message and a home for you." I said look man I don't do dick, so blow away." Jesus laughed and said," I think I got about ten or fifteen dollars in this hat. I just want to buy a brother some lunch and share the good word." I was starvin like Marvin so I said, "Yes" and followed him to the coney place around the corner. The way I figure is I would eat as much as I could then jet before it got freaky.

I made sure the waiter knew Jesus was paying and I ordered and leisurely ate a couple of coney dogs, chili cheese fries and a large strawberry soda. I was eating too fast to talk and Jesus seemed to have gone into quiet mode. As I was finishing my last few chili cheese fries. Jesus said, "I know how it is and you could use someplace to stay." I told him I had it handled.

He laughed and gave me a card that said Salvationland. A shelter for those who need to save themselves. It had an address but no phone number. Jesus then dropped money on the table and left while I was trying to think about what he wanted. I asked for a refill on the coke and examined the cards and Jesus motives until the cashier asked me if I wanted to order some more food.

Well I was just gonna go check this place out. This Salvationland. I had never been in or to a shelter before. I imagined a big dirty stinking cesspool of humanity trying to take care of their basic needs. In fact I had lived in the city my whole life and never recalled hearing about this place called Salvation land. It was a nice walk on the edge of downtown. I recognized it because of the people who were hanging around it. Most were dirty and unkempt. They looked homeless. Nope I wasnít going to end up like those people. The building looked like a big brick warehouse. There wasnít a sign on the building but there was a big address painted on it right next to the sign that said, "JESUS SAVES." I started laughing, "Now what if this Jesus just went out and got people to come to his shelter...would he be called a recruiter." I couldn't help it. I started laughing at the thought of Jesus as a recruiter for homeless people for Salvationland the homeless shelter.

I was in a tight so I decided to check the inside out in case I needed a place to sleep. This one crazy with about ten sweaters on started showing me newspaper articles and pictures trying to convince me it was her. She was way crazy and way friendly. She said," Welcome to Salvationland", my name is Cleo. just like she was at home or something. Hello my name is Dominic. I introduced myself and kept stepping trying to get away from her crazy ass. I was in such a hurry I almost walked into a woman who had sores all over. I almost lost my lunch. She just looked at me. I didnít know if I could stay here at Salvationland if these were the kind of people who hung out here.

When I walked in, I walked into a small foyer. The inside was okay not too dirty but not as clean as it could be. It was a huge ware house with beds lined up in rows. There was a door way in the back at the top of three or four stairs which I thought might have been an office. There were tables on the other end which could only have been the eating area. I needed me some privacy. I didnít want to sleep like that. Before I could walk out of the foyer a woman asked, "are you registered."

"Yes I am registered.. too many people died so we could get the vote." The woman started laughing so loudly, and she kept on laughing. wheezing out, not that kind of registered. I mean registered as a guest at this shelter."

I said "damn, I didnít know this was a hotel and I had to make reservations...poor me I thought it was a homeless shelter. Kind of looks like one." "who makes the beds?"

The woman finally got herself together, "Young man in order to be in this shelter and any other shelter for that matter you must be signed in." In case something happens we know who's here as well we need to know that every person has a bed to sleep in. If we fill our beds we make referrals to other shelters."

The crazy one who identified herself as Cleo had sneaked up behind me, "Boy it ainít so bad. Just get a bed near the wall so you can get in and out without disturbing anyone."

You know I sleep in the last bed by the stairs because I donít like to be disturbed plus sometimes the monster comes and I have to be able to get away from him." I thought, "wow this woman is crazy as a can of kraut. I wonder if she is dangerous?"

Cleo said," pick that bed by Jesus, he wont let nobody get you." " You know he helped me save the world"

This is just one of many shelters in the city. They all are alike. People mill around like cows. They fall on the whole range. From down and out, to crazy in the first second and third degree. The hardest thing is determining who is who. But there are others. Like this one time at dinner I was talking to this guy. He sounded sane. We were just shooting the breeze. He was telling me about himself. His name was Craig. He told me he grew up in the suburbs. I asked him why he was in the shelter if he had it going on so tough. He said he and his family had fallen out and he just walked away. Then his parents were killed in an auto accident. He didn't even get a chance to go to the funeral. His Aunt then took everything and left him with nothing. I was all feeling sorry for the guy. Telling him it was a shame he didn't get to make up with his folks. He started crying and everything. I was just sitting there trying to make him stop. Then he starts laughing at the top of his lungs.

Everybody was watching him, me hardest of all , cause I thought the guy was nuts. An old woman in raggedy clothes came over and started petting him and telling him it was going to be all right. He started crying again. I told her it was a shame about his parents. She looked at me like I was nuts. Then she started to laugh. He then started to laugh. I just sat there wondering what the joke was. I just didn't get it. I asked her what was so funny about his parents getting killed before he had a chance to make up with them. She really started laughing. I was beginning to get mad. I asked her what the hell she was talking about. she said, "he got you." I said, "got me," what are you talking about?"

She said,"Craig ain't never had no parents, rich poor or otherwise." " My sister died when he was born. We never knew who his daddy was. I raised him." Then she started laughing again." Boy oh boy Craig you just got to stop this foolishness." "Telling peoples lies and making them feel sorry for you."

I stayed away from Craig from then on. He is as crazy as a Betsy bug.

Now you take Jesus, he is crazy in maybe the first or second degree. All these signs you see written and taped on poles saying"Jesus is coming again soon." "repent" "The time is at hand" Well most of them was put up by Jesus. That is how he spends his time and money. I think he really believes he is, "the Jesus." He won't go to church but he preaches till he is blue in the face. He preaches all day and part of the night and the rest of the time he making those signs and putting them up. When he runs out of money he uses chalk or old paint he finds in cans. He asked me to help him but I said no. Cleo is another story. I think she helps him put up the signs. She would be crazy level five. She got fifteen personalities and all of them come from the newspaper , a book, a magazine. When I want to have fun I give her a paper and before she through reading it she done took on one of the characters. She is always the victim. One day she told me she was raped. I was like no damn Cleo. When? where? who? we need to tell someone. She pulls this article out of the newspaper and says," see they looking for this man. I knew it was him." I knew then she was way past crazy.

But Cleo is okay she will help you find anything you need from free clinics to food. She is nice. But stay away from Sheila. She is poisonous. I think you can catch whatever it is she got. She stinks like death. But Sister says we must pray for her. I say," pray and stay the hell out of the way."

Sister clapped her hands and said softly, Thank you Lord." She had been working diligently on her doctoral thesis, The Origins of Homelessness. Ten long years and numerous hours of silent observation. She would now be qualified to go out and tell the people how to avoid this disease. She had watched people. no families mothers and fathers and children and aunties, grandmothers who had strayed off the beaten track of life and ended up without a home, estranged from friends and families. This estrangement took many forms but it all ended in hopelessness, helplessness. She began her dissertation just talking notes and documenting why and how of homelessness and then she began to focus on the who. There was a progression of events and Maslow had missed it all. The citizens of Salvationland were not trying to climb some doggone pyramid but were just trying to hang on as the raging waters of life beat at them trying to pull them under.

There was another level of life that no one wanted to talk about. The level where the emotions lived and developed into its own drama. As a student of life she had watched the homeless. It was not about money but about so much more. Yes if you had no money you could be evicted and have to come to salvationland. Salvationland for some was not the end but the beginning of the long journey home. She had watched a family. A Father, a mother and three chubby children clinging to each other as they attempted to find their footing. The love of the mother and father for each other and their children sustained them until they were able to find a small house with the help of the Family Independence Agency.

They had been able to furnish it with the help of St Vincent DePaul. The father found a job, the children began attending school and the mother eventually got work as a lunch lady. They were the lucky ones who had climbed Maslows Pyramid and were thriving. Never once did the family stop loving each other. The hope never died. The other citizens of Salvationland defied characterization. She mingled with them. She worked signing them into the shelter. She gave referrals for food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental as well as housing. She helped prepare the food, served it and cleaned up after them. She was their servant but she was unable to grasp a full understanding of the whys and the howís even though she had written and would soon receive a PHD in Urban Poverty Management. She had carefully selected her subjects herding them together in an effort to gain a greater understanding. She had to work slow so that the subjects would not bolt and run when she tried to study them. Even in the whirlwind of homelessness people retained a basic sense of privacy.

They called her Sister , who would be so downtrodden that they would give themselves away to help the homeless, the downtrodden of this world but a Sister of the church. Sister seemed happy to hide behind the veil and even wore the nuns coif and wimple depending on what day of the week it was. Sister used the coif and wimple to protect herself from the lust of some of the homeless men. Plus nobody wanted to do anything to a nun and surely be banished to hell.

Salvationland just happened. Sister was studying the homeless when the city offered her a large warehouse. She did not mean to open a homeless shelter but when some of the big business men agreed to help her furnish it and gleaners and forgotten harvest promised food Salvationland grew out of the ashes. There was always enough or someone was coming around offering something that Sister thought Salvationland needed. Salvationland named itself or maybe Jesse James called Insane Jesse James named it Salvationland. A sign painter came and asked to paint a sign. Sister was stomped. What should she name it? InsanecJesse James just happened to walk by and said, In this land we shall all be saved. This is Salvationland and just like that the sign painter painted a big sign on the side of the warehouse in bold red and yellow letters, SALVATIONLAND. Jesse James made sure the citizens of Salvationland picked up paper around the building. He made it his personal heaven. He left his apartment and took up residency in Salvationland.

Sister remembered the early days. She had cleaned and slept in the little office while she figured out how to patch the holes in the roof, scrap down the lead paint, find a suitable boiler to heat her salvationland. She was not prepared for the bureaucracy. She hid the fact she was sleeping in the building. The inspector said the building should be condemned and demolished. This was the only time she wept lying I the tiny office she called home with no place to call home and no place to go.

Salvationland by Nora Hudson

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