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A Shelter For This Homeless One

Updated on January 6, 2017

Bridges Spanning Homelessness and Hopelessness

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Shelter living and trying to move forward

A home for a homeless person can be one of many places. One of my favorite groups, "The Red Hot Chili Peppers" would name 'Under a Bridge' as one and they would be quite correct. If their publicity is true, they or at least some of them did live under a bridge before they were successful. This inspired them to write one of their big hits based on living under a bridge. As I wrote in a previous article, inspiration can and will come at unusual and unexpected times and apparently places. Of course homes for the homeless include a plethora of places: a park bench, grove of trees, underpass of a highway, abandoned house/building, a beach, a doorway and on and on and on. Pittsburgh dealt and "helped" with the homeless living under some under passes by fencing them off and forcing the homeless to move elsewhere. This is comparable as to sweeping the dirt under a carpet. If one does not see it, it does not exist. A mantra of the ignorant and selfish.

Some of the residents of these places use them out of desperation until something better comes available. The ones that mystify me, and I assume many others, are the residents you see in these places for months or years at a time. It is not within my experience or education to know why they chose this extended homelessness other it than must be a combination of rock bottom hopelessness and some mental illness. I will leave that analysis to those better "equipped" for that particular study. I can guarantee you that the vast majority of these 'experts' will be almost entirely wrong. I find it a travesty that society does little or nothing to improve and change the lives of the homeless. Some will respond it is a free country and their freedom to make this choice. Yes, it is. I would answer them by saying that if someone sliced their wrists and chose to bleed to death, it would also be their choice but society would choose to call an ambulance. There is no difference. A few might choose to return to their favorite bridge; however, I believe, must believe, most would not. It is not a simple problem to address but to do nothing is certainly not the answer.

As I wrote before, my new 'home" shall remain nameless.... for now. My first night there was unremarkable. When surrounded by people I do not know or have a handle on, I prefer to sit back, listen and be very, very attentive to everything. I like to listen and learn before speaking. As my father once said to me, "What would all the many talkers of the world do if there not a few of us who actually listen." As I was to find out, many of these residents did not care if anyone was actually listening or not.

I was never or ever will be a part of any clique. I always believed one limits his experiences and new things to learn if one always hangs with the same people. The shelter was and is not different. I guess some feel safer with people they know best and there is some truth to that.

I being me, eventually retreated into one of the many 'compartments' that I have utilized as long as I can remember. It is the way I dealt with being beaten and raped, my parents death and other negative occurrences. Wrong or right, I feel most do this but I have it down to a science. For me it's a major psychological survival technique. I then deal with what is in the compartment when I feel ready. It is a major mistake to attempt to keep it locked in. As I found out with the brutal attack I survived, it is going to come out at some point whether we want it to or not. As I found out, it is better to choose the time and place. If it opens when you are not prepared, the consequences can be quite unpleasant and damaging. More on that later. I saw forming any type of friendship with anyone might prove difficult but I had only been there a few hours so I was patient, for now.

At around 8 PM a church group brought in a dinner for us. I was pretty impressed with this. This group was friendly and seemed to genuinely want to do this for the right reason: to help others less fortunate. I can't remember what we ate but it was tasty and nutritious.

We eat in a dining room that is not really large enough for 30-40 people if one includes staff and the church group. Of course, I was worried about taking someone's seat. Someone saw my look of bewilderment and apprehension searching for a seat and said, "Take any seat." I smiled and said "Thanks." That internal voice/ guardian angel knew better and 'told' me to wait. I saw quite a few ruffled feathers of men who felt someone had taken 'their' seat so I waited until I was the last one and took an empty place. Thank you guardian angel!

After dinner, I retreated to the couch/TV room where we have to wait until everyone is finished eating. The dining room and kitchen are clean. Once that is over, the "smoke room" and the room with 25 beds is opened. I was and am one of the few who has does not smoke (never have or will). I stayed in the TV room as that is where I was sleeping for now. The TV was turned back on and so I watched. Of course they were watching some sporting event which I had little interest in so I daydreamed. Then I paid attention to a bookcase loaded with books and magazines and took advantage of a five year old "National Geographic." That magazine is timeless so age did not make any difference.

The lights went out at 11PM. The shelter was not full as there were still some couches available. I slept OK. Showers are only allowed from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM. There are only two working showers for 25 men so a leisurely shower is out of the question. Having brought my own towel, I was able to wash my face and refresh myself. Breakfast consisted of cereal and coffee and I was grateful it was a meal I did not have to worry about.

Now that I was officially living in Allegheny County, my probation was switched from Butler County though I would still have to deal with two different probation offices, each with their own rules and regulations. My new probation officer is named Martha. She was and is a pleasant surprise. She is young, attractive ( I can say that being gay- yes future articles) and very, very nice. She listens and gives good advice. She genuinely cared and saw that I have an abnormal amount of problems and hurdles to deal with. It was a positive meeting and she scheduled to see me again on January 5th, 2015.

I felt very positive that morning. I left the shelter before 8 AM. Everyone, regardless of the weather or health issues must leave by 8 AM unless he is scheduled for laundry or a meeting with a staff member. The shelter has one name from 8 AM to 4:30 PM. It is for people who need a place to shower and then get a good lunch. From 4:30 PM to 8 AM, it goes by another name for those of us using it as a shelter. Having to leave by 8 AM is only a problem if it is a holiday, everything is closed and God forbid, the weather is bad. As I tell my Eduard (more on him at a later time) I think of myself as a zombie or the living dead as I trudge aimlessly on days that there is no place to go. In most cases, I am happy to be out and about as early as possible so I can be busy rebuilding my life.

The day before, Aaron had taken me to my doctor's office to reacquaint myself with them. If they knew where I had been and they probably did, they did not let on. They are known as "The Positive Clinic". Yes, I am HIV(+)!!!! That will be the basis of future articles. I had stopped my HIV meds in ACJ (Allegheny County Jail) as their medical department is inadequate and the source for many lawsuits for the jail. I was on a medicine called, Atripla. It consists of three meds also known as a cocktail. All three entities are crucial to be taken together so resistance does not occur allowing the virus to take control again. At least once every 3-5 times weekly, they could not find the med in the med cart. Then they decided to split the pill into it's individual components which was a disaster to say the least. They could not get one of the drugs and sometimes could not find another so tried to dispense 1-2 instead of three. I humbly told one nurse this was medically incorrect. She threw the pill down and said, "If you think you know better, then refuse it." I gritted my teeth and said "I do and will" and never went into the med line again. I made the tough decision to stop the med which my doctor later told me was the correct decision. I took the chance I would be paroled in the not distant future. This resulted in two months of no HIV treatment. When I got a blood test by my doctor, my viral load was over 100,000 and CD4 count in the 200's. As I had no symptoms, and actually never had any before I was diagnosed, I was happy and restarted my meds as another test showed I had not developed any resistance, due to my decision.

My next step that first full day in Pittsburgh was the Carnegie Library. That library was and is a Godsend. I could quickly become a member and began utilizing their computer system. That very first day, I got a new e-mail address. I looked up my old e-mail mailbox and there were over 7,000 e-mails from over 1 year ago but stopped taking them as the box was full - thank God! it was a major job looking at each and every e-mail as with my luck, the one I ignored would be an important one.

I updated all my old job websites such as Monster and Indeed with my new e-mail address and phone numbers. My Tracphone which had been dormant at ACJ was revived when Eduard sent money to me from the Dominican Republic, where he unfortunately still lives so I could reactivate it. Later, I would apply for one of the free "Obama phones" and then have a second phone to work with. This is an example of a social program that works. Try rebuilding your life without a cell phone. I used old resumes. In the next week, I would update it. I certainly was not going to add my experience at ACJ to my resume. I would address that, if necessary, in a future interview.

Yes, that first full day of freedom at the "Unpleasant Shelter" was a positive experience away from the shelter. I got to ride the subway, walk where I wanted and still feel abundantly hopeful and very, very positive about the future (As much as I love the color red, after wearing all red every day at ACJ for 15 months, it was a distinct pleasure to be in any other color). The realities of "moving up and out" in a positive direction had not happened yet. The weight of a criminal background, being HIV(+), being gay, dysfunctional social system and being homeless ( and many others) had not affected my outlook or potential results of all the hard but worthwhile work I was only just beginning.

I do want to add that my writing is taking a different direction, multiple directions than what I had planned or intended. This to me is what writing is all about. I have found to give a complete picture, I will need to go slower and in greater detail to cover all the topics for the reader to have a better and clearer understanding what I was - and am- dealing with. Actually, this is helping me get a better picture also. I knew and stated many times when I was in ACJ, that once released, I would have a difficult time of it. However this journey of going from point A to point B is, of course, nothing as I had envisioned. What is it they say about the "best laid plans....."?


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    • Peter Grujic profile image
      Author

      Peter Alexander 2 years ago from Pittsburgh

      It was pretty bad at the time yet I was grateful for a place to stay. What was aggravating was how some of the staff treated we residents. I used that aggravation as impetus to move in a forward direction. Thanks for reading the article and your comment. Much appreciated!

    • profile image

      Sandy Earson 2 years ago

      I wanted to commend you for writing about your experience being homeless to enlighten what it is like and to help others.