Suffering through homelessness is indeed a traumatic experience. There are some who don’t make it, they take their own lives or are terminated through someone’s hate and prejudice and are actually murdered. There are those who just disappear into the night or wherever, and are never heard from again. Then there are those that actually, because of their state of ‘dispossession,’ decide to become a member of the machine that is attempting to make homelessness a thing of the past. They take a position with an entity which may be a city agency, or a state agency, that is trying to bring it all to a resolution, to an end. Their homelessness actually is a requisite for their new job. Martin Sheen starred in a movie dedicated to such a thing. “Samaritan: The Mitch Snyder Story.” From my experience, the percentage of people who find their way out of homelessness, on their own (no help from any agency) are fewer than half, maybe not by much, but, as I said, it looks to me to be fewer than that. Those people are the teachers to those behind them. Why do I think so? Do I have facts? No. I don’t have facts, but I do have eyes and ears. Those two organs and what they perceived during my experience is where I get my understanding.
The things I have learned during those five years.
We all have a form of disrespect. Some degree, some type, some form. Maybe you don’t care much for fast food, so when you DO go to McDonald’s to buy your juicy burgers, you have a disdain for all on the other side of the counter. You are short with them, but when you leave, the familiar feeling of contentment comes back. You may not have said anything to anyone in the burger joint, but you hated being in there and knew that if anyone said anything to you other than “Fries?” you probably would have disrespected them in action or word.
Maybe you disrespect government. When you go to renew your driver’s license, you become tense and want to unload on someone who asks you a ‘stupid’ question. “Still at this address?” You snap at them. Maybe your hairdresser, someone who works for you, maybe a relative. Some form of disrespect. It’s real, maybe you will see it by the end of this page.
What they say, what it means, how they mean it, how you take it, what it means to you.
Have you ever been in a place, a store, the library, in line at the movie theater and you hear someone say something, non-informed, intended to be hurtful to someone?
-A. “There is NO excuse for being homeless. People are lazy. There’s plenty of work. If you aren’t working, you aren’t looking hard enough.”
One morning, I was sitting in a ‘greasy spoon’ on 3rd Avenue close to Blanchard St. in Seattle having breakfast. I was on the street, not in Everett yet. As I was working through the first pork chop, a patron sitting just a table away from mine said the words quoted above. I was floored. Here I was, a working man, eating breakfast just before going to a job site, listening to a man spill his vitriol for something he obviously knew nothing about, nor did he want to know, but he was an expert in his own mind. It’s sad to hear such things, considering how much someone can help, rather than destroying something by acting on misinformation and ill-conceived intention. I am not lazy in any way. When something needs to be done, I’m on it, even if it isn’t urgent. Of course, that makes my ‘To do’ list longer than any other list I can think of.
-B. “You don’t look homeless.”
The first thought is “What does homeless look like?” Undoubtedly, there are people who look ‘homeless,’ but is that a certainty? Is there a ‘homeless’ look? There is certainly no ‘fashion’ involved in homelessness. Does looking homeless magically dispossess the person you addressed just to keep you from looking like a bigot? No.
As I have stated, I was always careful to not look run down, tired, tattered, ragged. I was careful not to look homeless. Although, I think that one could be a construction worker, railroad worker, machinist, a man in any field or form of employment that requires him to get dirty at work, and end up looking homeless at the end of the day, but when there is no suspicion, you do not look homeless. When someone thinks you may be homeless, you look homeless.
-C. “Why didn’t you see it coming?”
There are many answers to this question. There are situations where people can be caught up in activities that will lead to them losing their home and/or possessions, results they could have prevented. I am not going to list or discuss generalizations about those reasons. Then there are reasons that can not be foreseen, but are absolutely credible. Earthquake, a jetliner crashes into your neighborhood, you may be a young boy or girl and your parents are killed in some manner. As an adult, there are other reasons that may be at hand that you may not have control over. Your employer goes bankrupt, the list is endless. The fact is that it is seldom foreseeable when one becomes a homeless, or dispossessed person. Undoubtedly, such a thing will happen without forewarning, unless you are actually waiting for a legal action such as eviction. I certainly didn’t see it coming in my life, although, I can look back now and see that the setup was absolutely there. I was under the roof of a woman who actually was not really as emotionally stable as I had thought when I entered into the situation. As I look back, it is very clear to see to me. She was alcohol dependent, she held the welfare of her children at a lower standard than she held for herself, she had given birth to three children from three men, none of whom she had ever married and received no support from, so obviously a user. I am not here to diagnose her or anyone other than myself, but I should have been more aware of my surroundings.
Homelessness is not what one normally chooses as a lifestyle. I have seen high school students, through volunteer programs in their curriculum, actors and celebrities who have taken it on their own, become homeless for a few days, weeks, etc. in order to see what it is like, or, to somehow help. The one thing that they can not bring to the discussion is the idea of not having a termination date. When you have a set time to do something, whatever it may be, a deadline, you can quit if you so decide, you can work as hard as is needed to meet the deadline or you can at least wait it out. The homeless, in the majority of the cases, do not have that luxury. We are in it for the long haul. There is NO turning back, there is no promised future. We do not see a light at the end of the tunnel, even though at times it doesn’t seem as dark in the tunnel, we still can not give up if we truly want out. We have to endure. We can not find instant escape.
When I took a bed at the Everett Men’s Gospel Mission mission, I was determined to resolve my issue, but still had no end in sight. This could have actually just been another step to an unending situation, but it wasn’t. I was on the way to stability although not privy to that information or understanding at the time. It felt good, not just to be off of the street, but to see that I was doing the right thing. My self-doubt was waning. As I said, it wasn’t as dark in the tunnel, although I still did not see a light at the end.
To this day, in my mental warehouse, I have posters of issues I had become aware of that I had, although, not directly related to homelessness, but obvious because of the situation forcing me to look inward. To evaluate myself. “What is it about me that made this happen? What is it that I have in common with the other homeless people I now live with, other than the physical situation? Why am I determined to rise above this?” Valid questions I had never asked myself before. Some I still have no answer to, others I see the answer to very plainly.
I also covered that, in 2001 I purchased a used computer from my employer, Clay Erickson. This started me on a road to marriage. I met a woman online while stable again and paying for my own support in the community. I felt that I was ready to commit myself to moving ahead with an online relationship. That went on for 10 months, including a trip to Georgia and a face to face meeting with her. We became friends online before we met. I am now married to her and have been since 2002. She is my critic, my best friend, my spiritual mirror and the rock I need to hold on to. Joy, you are everything I want to dedicate myself to. I did not see that my homeless period was grooming me to be able to pt others ahead of me in nearly all considerations. If you enter marriage without that thought, dedication and attitude, you are most certainly going to fail. You can not hold yourself as more important than your spouse. Sorry, not happening.
Here’s my closing thought.
Don’t take things for granted. Don’t consider that you should fit in and that doing so will make you a stable person because it won’t. You have to achieve stability on your own. Many people actually have that handed to them. I did not. There has never been a time in my life when I could not be derailed. I was alone at eight years old, and up until 2002, had remained alone. When I married Joy, everything changed for me. When I let someone into my heart, life became what it is meant to be for me.
Homelessness showed me where my prejudices lie, where my arrogance had been grounded, where my judgmental attitude was very flawed and how it was keeping me stagnant and useless to anyone else. You may never know who may want YOU to be their help, their road out of the darkness. How did these mores become evident? I saw people do terrible things to the homeless, as well as those whom were not as fortunate as some are. I was astounded by what I saw while understanding that I was seeing myself reflected in these activities. I saw how I had been treating those people whom I now shared the same obstacles with. The same disdain I had oozed at some earlier time. The minorities, disabled, mentally challenged, dispossessed. I saw how they are judged, how they are pushed aside. I haven’t determined why people do such things instead of stopping to help, or putting time aside to help. Maybe lack of time, but then how many of us devote time to activities that are destructive to ourselves and not constructive to others, but yet we still put time aside to engage in those activities? As I witnessed these mores being applied to the different, or incapable, I saw that I had those mores within myself. I entered into homelessness hating homeless people. Have you ever seen yourself enter into a situation while hating those whom you now share the situation with? It’s time to take a moral inventory.
Today, I make an effort to do as much as I can to help others, regardless of their makeup or constitution, regardless of their choices, even in situations where others have considered that they deserve what they are getting. I consider the rehabilitation of a thing or person much more important than discarding the host. If helping them will change them the way my homeless situation changed me, I’m in. If it happened to me, it can happen to you. Just helping someone can be a revelation to them that they can do the same thing you have done for them, for someone else.
Tomorrow, when you wake up, after you are ready to answer all of your doors, ask yourself what you hate, what do you dislike that you see in others. Do you return a disservice with a disservice? Do you often say or think “I told you so?” Or do you bypass the negativity and help someone regardless of what you think they deserve? Do you just get on with the resolution?
The only good that can come from negativity is that it can inspire people to produce writings, art, emotions that expose its non-ability to do any good for any reason other than to inspire change for good. If you use negativity to create good or knowledge from, you have defeated it. Using negativity to destroy negativity is the only good thing that can come from it. Don’t allow it to breed.
Finally, I can say that I have no desire to experience those five years again, but I certainly cherish the education and insight, the changes I have gained from them. That is priceless and is not taught by any teacher, scholar or parent and no price tag will stick to it.
Feel free to comment if you feel so inclined. I look forward to understanding the various points of view on this subject of homelessness and the lessons that have been learned from it by others. It is indeed a situation that needs remedies.
I wish you the best in the coming year and thanks for looking,