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Homeless For Years, and No One Ever Knew It...

Updated on January 15, 2009

It's ice cold out today; today the temperature is in a single digit; it's so cold that my ears seem to catch fire, and my nose becomes numb in just seconds. Going outside for a smoke break is like torture to my body.

Whenever I'm outside, and the weather is this brutal, my thoughts always speak the same thing, 'Thank God I'm not homeless! Thank God I don't have to live in the subway, the woods, or the streets in garbage cans. Thank God warmth is only a few steps away in my cozy little office. Thank God.'

On cold days I think of homeless people more than I do on any other day. I think of how horrible it must be for them.

I think of how they are trying to cover their flesh with every used piece of clothing they have picked up along street sidewalks, or garbage bins, and I think that the cold air that whistles into the holes that these pieces of old faded fabric have, is by far the worst form of torture to them. I know, I personally could not handle it.

I never in my life though thought that homelessness would ever touch me, my family, or my loved ones.

For years I never knew that my uncle was homeless in the streets of the city for close to 2 years.

He kept it a secret, and we honestly didn't have a clue. He never hinted that he was homeless. He never asked for anything, he never even seemed to be in bad spirits. Yet for 2 years my uncle became part of the cities countless amount of homeless people.

He told us about his 2 years of living on the streets about a year ago. He kept it a secret because he was ashamed. He had too much pride to ask my mother for a place to live. It angers her now, because we had a spare room. Yet he never came out and asked for help.

He called us nearly every month, and we always assumed he was calling from his house. We never actually thought that he was using a phone booth.

We also never thought twice when he told us not to call, that he was changing his phone number nearly every month due to 'sleezy phone companies, and bad lines'. He always called us from a different number, so we never thought that the story he made up was a lie.

To me it's something I couldn't understand, and likely never will. But I imagine some people would rather battle the elements than ever dare ask for help.

When most folks think of homeless people, they imagine they are only living on the streets because they are crazy, on drugs, or that they are just lazy and refuse to work. Some people view them as a cities dirty plague.

My uncle though was neither. He was not crazy, he was not on drugs, and he would never be considered a dirty plague in my eyes.

He was not lazy. He managed to get to work everyday on time, while his homeless secret went unknown to even his fellow employees. He never begged for change, he never asked for a place to stay. He didn't hold signs begging for food. He had too much pride.

For 2 years though he worked, and saved money, and eventually had enough as to where he could rent his own small apartment. He lived in his apartment for a few years, and soon upgraded into a nicer place in Manhattan.

I guess I just felt like sharing this story to get a point across. If you see someone homeless this winter sleeping on a sidewalk or park bench, why not quietly add another blanket on top of him/her. I'm sure everyone has a spare blanket lying around the house. Why not give it to someone who really could use it?

If you are against giving money to the homeless, you could definitely spare a pair of old gloves, shoes, or clothes. Winter months are harsh, and such a small gesture could mean the world to someone. It could even mean life.

And you never of your relatives may be out there, freezing in the cold; homeless, and you wouldn't even know it.


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    • MellasViews profile image

      MellasViews 8 years ago from Earth

      lol... I would probably do the same. Save my change up to take a ride somewhere warm... just kick it on some beach. I reckon he took a lot of train rides, but never with any destination in mind.

    • profile image

      Adam B 8 years ago

      Being homeless sucks, not that I know how it feels to be homeless because I have never been, but I imagine is sucks. That being said, being homeless in a cold environment must suck even more. I live in Chicago and this winter it has gotten to -50 wind chill. Fuck that, I can't imagine being homeless in this rediculous weather.

      I think I would try and scrape enough money together from begging or whatever to buy a cheap bus ticket to somewhere warm. Then I would be homeless in a warm climate...I would then be living a less miserable life.

    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 9 years ago

      Sad, but heartfelt story.  I don't know if your uncle talks about the whole experience, but it would be fascinating to hear.  A brave, determined man.  I love your idea of passing out gloves, blankets, etc. to the homeless.  Where I live, there's a talk show host whose idea of the homeless is that they are just plain lazy.  Wrong!  Perhaps in a small number of cases, but mostly that's not the case.  It's not hard to imagine this circumstance with the economy the way it is.  It brings to mind, 'there, but for the grace of God'. 

      Nice hub, thanks for sharing this personal story.

    • Lifebydesign profile image

      Lifebydesign 9 years ago from Australia

      Hi Mellas, I just think what an amazing spirit your uncle has to have gotten himself out of it and to have borne it on his own all that time with 'good' pride. I'm sure you wish you could have helped but that he was able to do it himself and not give up or lose hope...that's remarkable. Kudos for his guts and determination. Very inspirational story - thanks.

    • ParadigmShift... profile image

      ParadigmShift... 9 years ago from San Jose, CA

      You won't regret it Mellas. It is an amazing film! Some of the people down there were living there for over ten years! They built there own homes, had electricity, some were on drugs, others were recovering addicts. Everyone has a unique story of how they ended up down there. It's sad, scary, funny, all at once.

    • MellasViews profile image

      MellasViews 9 years ago from Earth

      Ill def be checking out that documentary Dark Days. Thanks for letting us know about it. It sounds like its going to be a good one.

    • ParadigmShift... profile image

      ParadigmShift... 9 years ago from San Jose, CA

      I've always been interested in the real story behind homeless people. Someday, I'd like to actually be homeless with them for a while, and get their stories, unless, ofcourse, it's already been done. In that case I'd love to read it.

      Christoph, you might enjoy an independent film called "Dark Days" about a group of people who lived under the old subways in NY. The director actually went down and lived with these people for two years to film the movie! It won a lot of awards actually. A truly amazing film.

    • KT pdx profile image

      KT pdx 9 years ago from Vancouver, WA, USA

      One of my best friends was homeless for a while. It gives you a different perspective when you realize someone you know went through that experience. My mom and I make hats and scarves for donation to homeless shelters every winter, and have since I was little.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 9 years ago from St. Louis

      Not what I was expecting, but I admire a writer who can go back and forth between humor and seriousness, because it shows true depth of writing skill, which you, young lady, clearly have.

      I lived in NYC for 10 years, and was always facinated by the homeless; how they managed the incredibly difficult life and what had caused them to be there. Clearly, some were "crazy" and just as clearly, some were not. On more than one occasion, I sat on a stoop with a homeless person, them enjoying a cold beer that I had brought for them, with me having my own, of course. Sometimes, we would end up drinking the whole six pack. It was most interesting to talk to them (if they were able and they didn't smell too bad--I'm not trying to be funny.)

      Then I began spending 3 hours in the morning before my regular job working with the mentally ill. What became immediately clear, was many of them, at this level, appeared to be perfectly normal. So much so that I would ask what they were doing there. And then I saw my first student (thats what we called them, because we taught them job skills and how to function in the real world) have one of his "bad" days. Then you would be like, "Oh...THAT'S why they're here."

      Anyway, I'm prattling. Very good job, and impressive too. That's remarkable about your Uncle; how he was able to keep it a secret, keep his job, get back on his feet, etc., etc.

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 9 years ago from Madrid

      Touching, MV. Sad but uplifting at the same time. I give everything I can spare in terms of clothes to a shelter that's two blocks from home. That makes me feel ok with myself and at the same time it makes me feel like I have way too much and some people just have too little.

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 9 years ago from Free and running....

      I have issues with just turning away, but you have good thoughts on how to approach it. I too have had homeless people turn me down for food and it makes me wonder what to do. And when it comes to money, often you know exactly, very sadly, where that's going.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Nice to see your compassionate side showing, MV!! Very timely hub and the personalization with your uncle's story makes it come to life. Nice work!! You never say what caused your uncle to become homeless -- but it doesn't matter. These days, more and more people are on the brink of losing their homes and are facing the same life.

      I love your idea of blankets, gloves, etc. I know many people don't like to give $ but an extra layer of warmth is hard to say no to (I have had homeless people turn down offers of food).

      Thanks for getting my thoughts out of my own "Cadillac" problems today! MM

    • ajcor profile image

      ajcor 9 years ago from NSW. Australia

      Your poor uncle enduring this, and in silence, but I could also see how your mother would be upset about his pride - sometimes pride is good but when you have family who love you and care about your welfare then not to tell them is not so good....but he survived and hats off to him for continuing to make his life better ...really liked this hub....cheers

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 9 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      This is a wonderful story and to think he went from the streets to Manhattan what an accomplishment. He has been at the bottom and knows what it was like, what an honor to have an Uncle like yours, as he has a beautiful story to tell.:)

    • MellasViews profile image

      MellasViews 9 years ago from Earth

      Yeah... no fart jokes here. I just got sad going outside after a smoke, and realizing how many people had to actually STAY outside in this weather... and got even sadder knowing that for 2 harsh winters, one of those people was my uncle. He's warm now... but still there are sooo many out there dealing with it, and I don't even want to check the news to see how many 'homeless John Doe's' have died today.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      This has a very different tone from your other hubs but that doesn't mean I like it less. It's a very inspiring story despite the pride that kept your uncle at bay. It's a good of kind pride, if there is such a thing. The pride that keeps you going and not wallowing in stupidity. And nice thought on the other homeless's nice to know that they can depend on the kindness of a stranger like you. Thanks for sharing :D

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 9 years ago from Manila, Philippines