Annie poked her head into my office. “Jane, do you have a minute. I have a problem with my classroom.”
“Sure, come on in.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with my kids. They’re all great. But I keep finding stuff on the ramp in front of my portable.”
“What kind of stuff?”
Our conversation continued. Annie taught first grade at Baxter and she shared with me that she’d been noticing things left on the ramp leading up to the door of her portable classroom for a couple of weeks.
“Sometimes I find kids clothing like hoodies, jackets, sweaters all lined up on the railing of the ramp.”
“Really, like clothes from our lost and found?”
“Yeah, it’s almost like someone is barricading the ramp.” She was animated. “You know when you were a kid and used all the sheets and blankets in your house to make a fort, draping them all over the furniture? It’s kind of like that.” She paused. “I wonder if it’s kids from the after-school program playing hide and seek games.”
She also explained she started noticing large pieces of cardboard, like appliance moving boxes that had been torn apart, left in piles on the ramp.
“I thought it must have been the after school students again.” She remarked. “I would just throw it away, but the cardboard kept reappearing, not every day, but periodically I would find them. I finally decided I needed to talk to the Director of the After-school Program.”
“Did that help?”
“Well, I’m not sure. He said he would look into it and ask the students. He hadn’t seen anything himself and said he usually keeps the kids so busy they wouldn’t have time to play out by the portables. I haven’t heard back from him yet.”
“OK, I’ll follow up with him and see if he discovered anything. But please let me know the next time you find clothing or cardboard or anything else on your ramp, I’d like to come and take a look at it myself. Do you need any other help with this, we can get Rusty to clean up or take stuff away if you need?”
“Will do, thanks I’ve removed it all. I don’t care if kids are playing there, it just would be nice if they picked up after themselves.”
About a week later I again heard from Annie about this issue. I had arrived at school early when she rushed into my office.
“Oh Jane I’m so glad you’re here. You won’t believe this. Remember when I told you about the stuff on the ramp of my classroom?” I think someone is sleeping there. I arrived early this morning because my students are performing in a play today and I wanted to get the classroom ready. As I approached the portable I saw the clothes again hanging on the railing but it looked different this time, there were more of them and they shielded almost the whole ramp and there was lots more cardboard too. As I got closer, I saw what looked like a big lump under the cardboard but I could see feet sticking out. I just turned around and raced down here. I assume it’s someone sleeping and not dead. What do I do?”
“Oh geez, lets go find Rusty, I’d like to have him with us before we go up there.”
Rusty, our head custodian, was a big, body-builder type of guy and if we were going to approach this person I wanted to have support. We explained the situation to him. The three of us headed out to Annie’s portable near the edge of the playground. As we approached, we could see the multiple pieces of clothing hanging down providing a comfortable shelter along the ramp. There were gray puffy jackets, small pink, white and yellow sweaters, green, black and red hoodies and enough other items of clothing to form a clothesline around the perimeter of the ramp.
Also, leaning on the outside of the back of the ramp was a rusty gray bicycle with multi-colored strings hanging off the handlebars, and tan-colored stuffing poking out of the torn black leather seat. It looked like at one time it had belonged to a kid with its streaming colors hanging off the handgrips.
As we walked closer, we could see the large pieces of cardboard covering the ramp were not laying down flat and definitely covering something rather large. We intentionally raised our voices as we approached.
“Rusty, what do you think this is here? Are these jackets left here by our students?”
“It sure looks like a lot of them, and look, there’s a bicycle leaning up against the classroom.”
That loud conversation prompted some of the cardboard to move, and as it raised up a male person poked his head out.
“What are you doing here?” Rusty declared, raising his voice. “You do know this is a classroom and students will be arriving very soon.”
“I’m sorry man. We’ll get out of here right now.”
When I heard him say “we” I glanced at Annie, she looked back at me wide-eyed and right then another head poked out of the cardboard. This one was female.
“You guys need to find another place to rest your heads at night. This is a school and you can’t sleep here.” Rusty retorted.
“I know, I know. We’ll be outa here in a minute.”
Luckily, they were both dressed because immediately the two sleeping people began rushing around gathering their cardboard and other belongings.
“And leave those jackets here, I believe they belong to our kids.”
The guy grabbed the cardboard, and the woman commandeered the dusty gray bike down the gravel path that led to the portable classroom, and they were quickly on their way off the school grounds.
“Oh my gosh” whispered Annie. “Thank you so much for taking care of them. I don’t know what I would have done. I couldn’t believe when I saw that this morning but I had no idea there were two people sleeping there. I’m just glad it wasn’t a dead person.”
I turned to Annie. “Are you OK? Do you need any help?”
“Oh no, I’ll be fine, I’ve just got to get in there and set it up for the play this morning.” And she rushed off up her ramp.
I was happy it turned out to be as easy as it was to get the homeless couple off the ramp and out of school. I helped Rusty gather up the jackets and sweatshirts and thanked him for helping us and taking the lead on getting them out. I was pretty sure that we would not be seeing them again on campus. They seemed harmless and hopefully would just find another place to spend their nights. It was sad that they had nowhere to go where they would have a roof over their heads and had to sleep under cardboard on a school classroom ramp. Our schools are open and available to the public, but there has to be a different solution for the homeless.