The Mayor of Boxville

Laura Miller to homeless: Get out of downtown. Homeless to Laura Miller: We've got our own mayor.

"I could see tears in his eyes," Choice says. "I was just trying to say thank you for feeding us."

Moments like that are rare under the bridge. More common is the story of Sundance, a resident of a camp off of Industrial Boulevard that Romano got to know well. "He was a Navajo from Arizona," Romano says. "He'd be drunk half the time we'd see him, but he was a nice guy, a very good guy." Sundance had been hit by a car and confined to a wheelchair, and Romano and others at Hunger Busters came up with the idea of collecting money to send him home to visit his family. Before they did, however, Sundance strayed into the path of another car last year. This time, the impact killed him. Romano did pay to send Sundance home, but for a tribal funeral instead of a reunion. In telling the story, Romano has to pause to collect himself. "We get attached to these people," he says.

Back at Mack's Camp, it has become clear after a few days that the bulldozers aren't coming. In celebration, Choice launches an expansion of his house. A new privacy wall of fresh cardboard sets off the recliner in its own area. "The guest quarters," he jokes as he rakes the dirt around his site clean. Choice has also built a burrow for Salt and Pepper that rivals some of the human dwellings in the camp, using a broken chaise longue for reinforcement. She takes to it immediately, disappearing for a lengthy nap in the dark, blanket-lined space.

The burst of constructive activity signals to the camp that the threat has lifted--for now. When Choice ponders longer-term plans for his life, however, the future he sees varies with his mood. On one day, he will declare, "This is just a temporary situation. If you can look up, you can get up, and I'm not going to be here forever." The next, he'll offer a more sobering assessment. "It's like if you fall off a horse, and you don't get right back on, it gets harder. That horse will get to the point where he knows you but you can't get your foot up to get back on. Then, after a while, the horse doesn't even know you anymore."

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