LOSING IT

"You really have no idea how much rage and anger exist inside the homeless. Of course they are angry. This isn't what life is supposed to be like, is it? All of the shelters turn you out onto the street at dawn because you're supposed to be looking for work. These people are drug addicts, drunks, people from shattered homes, the mentally ill, people fresh out of prison. These people aren't going to find jobs. They are forced out onto the street, flushed out like trash at sunup. You feel like you're in a penal colony. Administrators felt if people were hanging out in the library or drinking coffee, they weren't looking for work. This ignores the reality that a lot of people are crushed on the inside."
Hillya Mooney knows something about Sidney Timberlake's background. His case fills four large folders in the basement file room of Superior Court. The record shows that Timberlake was sentenced in a plea agreement to 28 years in prison with no chance for parole. His presentence report is studded with paper clips left by Hillya who has read and reread Timberlake's history as told by Sidney himself.

This man's hatred of women began decades before his homelessness.
The oldest of seven boys, he never knew his father. His mother turned him over to an "aunt" who was, in fact, a prostitute. She began by performing oral sex upon him, graduating to full intercourse. By the time he was 10, she was selling Sidney to friends of hers. At the age of 13, Timberlake was pimping for women. As an adult, he was addicted to cocaine and heroin.

When Timberlake lived in a homeless shelter, it is Hillya's feeling that he needed more than a job; in fact, he had employment at the very time he was committing the rapes.

"Homeless rage happens when you don't feel bound to humanity. You feel there is no place for you. The human touch is what's missing. Food and shelter are not enough. That's like throwing someone a life preserver but not reeling them in. We need the human touch. That's what the coffee service and library were all about. To wake up and have your coffee, read your newspaper, helps you realize you're human.

"When people don't respond to someone else's pain, that's what causes the rage. Do you really think anyone ever responded to Sidney Timberlake?

"I cared about people before, but I care more now. When I see the news, it's no longer someone 'out there.' It's all of us."
@rule:
@body:Following the rape and nearly three years of homelessness, Hillya Mooney has been unable to take a single step toward secure employment.

Her apartment costs $210 a month and she has no money. She has spent December without heat and is recovering from the flu. A Thanksgiving turkey went uncooked when the landlord was unable to repair a broken gas line.

Hillya inquired about substitute teaching at the grade school across from her apartment but was told she'd need $50 for fingerprints and a teaching certificate. She'd already spent what little cash she had for a few pieces of furniture.

Still, the sound of the children playing during recess tugs at her and kindles memories.

"On Memorial Day weekend, I organized a big picnic for all the kids in the shelter. I found an eight-piece salsa band and Circle K donated all kinds of food. Shamrock kicked in hundreds of ice cream cups and I got the American Legion to donate flags. The local manager of Kentucky Fried Chicken gave the children buckets of food and Saint Mary's Food Bank brought over candies. We just stuffed ourselves like little piggies. We danced, we put down blankets and quilts and played games with all the children. It was so much fun."
Hillya Mooney, without spending a dime, can organize a festival for society's busted angels that would make Fellini blush. But she cannot get organized enough to support herself.

On Christmas Eve, Hillya Mooney left a message on my voice mail. Her Feliz Navidad began in Spanish with an accent so sweetly tuned that it lathered the ear in aural gel. In English, she continued her holiday greeting for me and my family with words so gracious that it was easy to imagine she'd forgiven me the anguish I unwittingly caused her with my column three years ago.

And I have no doubt that when Hillya reads parts of this piece and feels pain, she will find it in her heart to forgive me, again.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but isn't the larger question: How do the rest of us absolve ourselves?

Three years ago, I wrote a series of columns on the homeless with the idea that their problems could not be confined to the transient ghetto on Ninth Avenue and Madison.

Hillya Mooney, a teacher living in a nice neighborhood far from the shelters, became exhibit one when she was raped by a homeless man. I wrote about her, and then I forgot about her.

Though Hillya Mooney has lived Jesus' teachings on Christian charity, it has not been enough to ease her back into the world the rest of us inhabit, a world she once knew so well.

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