Homeless Help on a Rainy Alton Night
John J. Dunphy
(Originally published in 11/16/19 edition of The Telegraph of Alton, IL)
The late Kent Eberhart, who lived across from the street from my book shop, had a big heart. Like myself, he knew a colony of feral cats inhabit the area around the building that houses my book shop. Unlike pampered house cats who have overflowing bowls of dry food with occasional courses of canned food, feral felines can never take their next meal for granted. Kent and his wife, Suzanne, placed bowls on the steps leading up to the deck of the apartment above my book shop. They made sure those bowls were filled with dry cat food, with a large bowl to hold water.
I soon joined this compassionate couple in making sure those bowls were never empty for very long. I caught only fleeting glimpses of some of the cats, who scurried away when they saw me. After a while, however, a few cats decided they had nothing to fear from this guy holding a huge bag of cat food. They’d watch me dump dinner into those bowls and wait for my departure with a gleeful anticipation. The moment I had walked a certain distance down the alley, those hungry critters would make a mad dash for their evening meal.
Kent knew that winter poses a potentially deadly challenge for feral cats. Sub-zero temperatures threaten their very survival. Kent rigged up some tiny shelters for these felines, complete with beds of straw to provide a layer of insulation. These shelters in conjunction with a steady supply of food means members of this feral colony stand a much better chance of survival than most feral cats.
My friend and neighbor died just before this frigid weather descended on our region. Kent would be happy to know that the shelters he built are still occupied and much appreciated by these homeless cats. One shelter rests near the alley’s garbage cans. Kent placed a small piece of thick carpet over its door to keep out the wind, which made it prime real estate for a feline.
As I walk down the alley to feed my friends, I call out “Any hungry cats back here?” One feline in particular always darts out of that particular shelter. I guess he/she has laid claim to it and put down roots.
I’ve grown quite accustomed to seeing homeless cats around the Dunphy Building. Seeing a homeless person who had taken temporary residence at my building, however, was quite another matter.
I was closing the book shop on November 4 when I noticed two legs protruding from the stoop of the Dunphy Building. I’ve owned The Second Reading Book Shop in downtown Alton since 1987, so this wasn’t my first encounter with the homeless. However, this was the first instance when a homeless person had taken refuge in the building that houses the book shop.
It was a chilly night of drizzling rain and a sharp wind. This person had settled in the stoop to escape the elements. Kent Eberhart made the exterior of the Dunphy Building a long-term refuge for homeless cats. I then decided to make the building’s exterior a one-night refuge for a homeless person.
I told him that I owned the building and he was welcome to remain there for the night if he so chose. “I won’t deny you shelter from the rain,” I said. “Please don’t damage the building in any way.” He replied that he “respected” the building and wouldn’t cause any trouble.
Before departing for home I told a friend who works at the bar next door about my unexpected guest. I let my friend know that I had given the homeless man permission to spend the night in the stoop. He told me that my guest was no recent arrival. In fact, he had spent much of the day at that exact spot.
I haven’t seen that homeless man again. I like to think he’s found a place that offers more than a single night of refuge.
John J. Dunphy is an author, the Godfrey 15th Precinct Democratic Committeeperson and recording secretary for the Godfrey Democrats.