Their Day In Paradise 2009: Smell Stale

Their Day in Paradise

The smell of stale sweat and sleep hang heavy in the air in the packed lobby of the Conrad Center on Oliver Hill Way.
About 20 men sit slumped shoulder-to-shoulder in hard-backed plastic chairs. Some are still asleep despite the rude 7 a.m. glare of the room’s fluorescent lighting. In a corner, one gaunt man with large, hollow eyes that sit stark against his dark complexion sits, chin in hand, staring into space with blank resignation. No one talks. No one seems to move. These are some of the lucky ones among Richmond’s homeless on this particular Thursday. They’ve arrived in time for the center’s hot meal, complete with scrambled eggs, toast, Danish, grits, sausage and coffee. But not yet. The kitchen is still preparing for today’s diners for those who sit here in stony silence, but also for 22 very special community guests. The room’s institutional two-toned green cinderblock walls do little to inspire lively conversation — they’re hung with drab inspirational posters and large, jarringly bright oil-color paintings depicting extreme close-ups of food. Minutes tick by and the doors of the facility, operated by the Freedom House charity organization, open to greet a new rush of people. These new arrivals aren’t like the mass of broken, exhausted humanity already waiting. Unlike the group already here, these people come in shiny new cars and SUVs. None slept outside last night.
Their excited, giddy chatter bounces off the walls, though the resigned men already here hardly notice.

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