The two men came in out of the cold night, one about 50 years old, the other only 19. They both had a look about them that indicated hard times. They were polite, clean and normally dressed for an Ohio winter, but maybe bundled up just a little bit too much. Something about their appearance and expressions just created the impression of being down and out.
I was doing my normal volunteer shift working the front desk at the Lima Police Department, and the older one asked me if I knew anything about the bus station. He said he understood that a bus was to be in at 8 o'clock that evening, but the station wasn't open and it was already 7:40 p.m. I told him I didn't know too much about it, but I suggested that he go back across the street to the station and wait to see what would happen.
At 8:20 p.m. they were back. This time, the younger one spoke. He said no bus had arrived, and the station didn't open. He wanted to know if there was a "shelter" in town.
When he said that word, I knew my first impression was correct, and that they had probably spent a lot of nights in homeless shelters. I asked him where they were headed, and he replied, "Home to Tennessee." He added that they didn't have any money for a room.
I told them about the Lima Rescue Mission, and said I would make a call. When I reached the attendant on duty at the mission, he asked for their names. The younger one gave me one name. When I asked the other name, he replied, "the same." He spotted my quizzical look and quickly said, "We're father and son." The attendant then wanted ages, and when I told him the son was 19, he said they couldn't take anyone under 21.
At this point, a lot of thoughts were going through my mind. I thought of the time just prior to World War II when my dad and my two uncles left our home in southern Ohio to find work. Two found jobs in Lima, but my one uncle hitchhiked back to home and family. I thought of the time when, at age 16, I briefly lived in a $1.50 a night room in the Reid Hotel just east of the building where I was now sitting. My main thought was that these two men were not going to spend the night in the cold. I would pay for a room before I would let that happen.
I also remembered the times when I was a young patrol officer and we all knew that the one place which never failed to provide assistance was the Lima Rescue Mission. The Rev. James Welty never failed us. I called the number again and asked for the current director, Chuck Ferguson. The answer came immediately. The 21 age rule does not apply in an emergency for an overnight stay.
I gave them directions, then I went to the back door of the police station and watched them walk north on Central Avenue. My mind was filled with the hope that, somewhere in Tennessee, there is a warm house for them and a family to greet them. I knew that but for the grace of God it could be any of us walking through the cold night in the hope of nothing more than a warm place to sleep.
I silently thanked God for providing the Lima Rescue Mission to our town.