Atlanta — Lawrence walks fast. That was my first surprise. He may be homeless, but like so many other homeless people we passed during our day together here, he has a round of places he stops in - to look for work, get free food, keep warm.
''Being out here on the street without a job will kill your spirit,'' he says , as we walk down a nearly empty sidewalk at dawn. ''Deep down inside you just be cryin'. . . . None of us really believe we're gonna get one (a job).''
But how hard the homeless try to find work was my second suprise. Many arrive at day-labor pools when the offices open at 5:30 a.m. Lawrence finds no work at one of them today. Later he tries the state employment office. No work there either. ''Idleness is a terrible thing for a man,'' he says.
At 9 a.m., when the public library opens, we are at the door, waiting to go in where it is warm, where there is a public restroom, where you aren't hassled as long as you stay awake. The library quickly fills up, mostly with homeless men. Lawrence points them out. I begin to notice the homeless everywhere. They are rubbing shoulders with the office crowd on the sidewalks, trying to ''blend in,'' as Lawrence says.
That was my third surprise: just noticing so many homeless. Many of them have been on the streets a long time. But I had never paid much attention. At lunchtime several hundred line up for two sandwiches and soup at St. Luke's Episcopal Church.
After lunch he says: ''This time of day you probably haven't had a good sleep and with all that walking you're tired. You want to go to sleep, but you can't. You have no place to go.''
Lawrence, a high-school graduate, has worked at part-time jobs most of his life, including many years in Boston. In August he was laid off a janitorial job. He was ''on the street'' from 1976 to 1977. Now he's there again, living free at Pentacostal Powerhouse Church. But there's an important difference. He's feeling useful again.
Lawrence helps with the church's shelter/feeding program as an unpaid resident volunteer. ''I have a real sincere compassion for them (the homeless). Most of them are pretty good Joes. Maybe this is my calling (to help minister to them).''
As a volunteer or paid, he plans to continue helping the homeless, he says. And he still hopes to find a job and eventually bring his son, 16, and stepdaughter, 18, down from Boston, where they now live with a relative.