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Homeless The Hard Way
It seems only yesterday that I turned my back to the world. I thought the world, its people, and their concerns, were not worth my trouble. I was here to make the planet a better place, and I wasn’t getting any help. I had Utopian Dreams and the world and its chaos and pain sabotaged them! Maybe it was youth and frustration that did it. To give up on it. To lose Faith in it. As I reflect on this notion today, I can’t help but believe I turned my back to the mirror of my own life instead, and in this process, gave up on myself. I was sixteen going on six.
If life is about choices, then I have certainly made some tough ones. Really tough: A roof over my head, or paying personal debts, or day-to-day living expenses like food, a textbook, transportation, or the phone bill.
Often it was a place to stay indoors, without the trappings of living a ‘normal’ looking lifestyle, or the even more problematic choice of living without a key to my own door or, in its place, food, transportation and cash for the predictably unpredictable. We are not talking about luxuries here; this is the tough choice of having my own place and nothing else, or something, and nowhere to have it. A house but not a home, so to speak, or defaulting on the rent in order to enjoy the trappings of reasonable living, but only by foregoing that rent, and thus ‘choosing’ to be homeless. Some choice, eh?
And, no getting around it, helping others financially has often gotten me into trouble. People have a bad habit of violating my expectations, of letting me down. Perhaps people who had crossed my path in life had lacked vision. Or failed to foresee their inability to honor commitments, or their willingness to honor them. Perhaps I’m the one who lacked the vision. It’s hard to know. And yes, there had been times when good drugs and bad women clung to me like black on tar, and contributed to my ‘decisions’ to live a homeless life. But in the final analysis, surviving life is all a matter of not what we do, but more, how we do it. I shower and shave daily, my clothing clean if often wrinkled.
My backpack carrying everything, (a good sleeping bag, two changes of clothing, canned food and can opener!) and toiletries too, go with me. Laptop. Cell phone. The whole nine...But this isn’t easy, this trying not to ‘look’ homeless. It takes some work, but it’s do-able.
What we need are lockers! With near 24- hour access, we could do our studying, look for our jobs, or keep the jobs we have, without pushing a cart or carrying our world on our backs and stigmatizing ourselves. Seem impossible? (Maybe not Lockers For The Homeless In My Back Yard, but….)
It’s certainly possible. We do have resource centers like the DCM and Grace In Action in Davis, and although neither have safe and secure space to provide lockers for us now, I cannot over-emphasize their importance to the community in terms of what they do provide to both sheltered and un-sheltered alike: I can stay clean, do laundry, and make meals. I can receive phone and written messages and mail. Someone is always there and happy to give an encouraging word, or just listen, when that’s what I have needed the most. It would be so much easier to just let myself go. Not care how sheltered people see me. Not worry about what they may think. Pretend I don’t care if I smell (thank God for anti-perspirant in summertime Davis, eh?) or look out of place. I could play the role, look the part, and fit the ‘profile’ of a homeless man. Sadly, isn't it “letting one’s self ’go’” that defines the negative stereotype? One that so many of us have consciously or, over time, unconsciously “decided” to(embody)?
That’s the easy way out I think, and it’s a pity really, self pity mostly, because the resources are out there. We don’t have to fit the profile. We don’t have to confirm the biases and prejudices of those who see ‘the homeless’ as blight. If we look like we are trying to do something for ourselves, with the support we have here, it seems to me our community will embrace us. And inspire us, as it has done me. I’m facing the mirror of my life again. It has been homeless the hard way for me, but I think it’s just as temporary too. What do you think?
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