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Home (less) for the Holidays

Updated on March 6, 2016

Traditional Christmas tree on the old Hornes Building in Pittsburgh

 The very old traditional Christmas Tree on the old Hornes Building helped lift my Christmas spirits
The very old traditional Christmas Tree on the old Hornes Building helped lift my Christmas spirits

Pleasant Valley Shelter - Most Unpleasant

Being Homeless

Homeless. I am homeless. I know that I, the person writing this, is homeless and the person in the mirror is Peter Alexander therefore I am Peter Alexander, ergo, I am homeless. The true ramifications of living those words has the same result as a punch in the stomach or a vicious slap in the face. Neither very pleasant. Being homeless should never feel good or become comfortable. Anyone with all mental pistons firing in synchronization, finding himself or herself homeless, should use that uncomfortable feeling as motivation to keep trying and endeavoring to move themselves moving in a positive direction and up out of the hole one suddenly finds oneself. It should never feel comfortable to be homeless. Well, not for me anyway.

Since doing my rough draft, I decided to use this first article as a "menu" of things to come. I know I use my own style of punctuation and sentence construction as it conveys the way I feel and say things.There are just too many aspects of being homeless to capsulize in one single article. As my life began to unravel and spiral downwards just a few short years ago, I went from "Thank God, I'll never be homeless." to "Dear God, show me what to do so I do not become homeless." to "Oh my God, I'm homeless!"

I have always loved to write. My passion for writing was fully ignited when my 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Adams, used my required project- my autobiography ( an autobiography of a 14 year old!)- as the subject of an entire class period. She announced that it was the best autobiography she had ever read and she had been teaching at least 30-40 years at that point. Funny how inspiration often comes in the most unexpected times and places. Not so funny how desperate I am now for any inspiration.

As I begin this article, I will touch on many topics which will have to be revisited as a future article - or more likely- a number of articles. I will allude to and reference my major writing endeavor, a book I have entitled Scars of the Heart and Soul, which is based on the period of my life when I was working on my second degree, pharmacy, did not listen to that internal voice warning me not to take a shortcut which I overrode. I then proceeded through a section of East Liberty in Pittsburgh. It was a neighborhood I had jogged and bicycled a number of times in the daylight. I did not know at the time that neighborhoods can change after dark. The end result was being jumped by five "gentlemen" who severely beat, knifed and raped me. Becoming homeless is just one of the many results of this almost fatal mistake. The decision to walk through an unknown area, to me, to save a "lousy" 20 minutes, is a decision that cost me a great deal more time than 20 minutes and heartache. It is a decision I sometimes wish had resulted in my death. However, the book is now on page 248, and holding. Until I get my computer up and running again it will stay on hold which will not happen while I am homeless! Life's many ironies.

However, I will deal with the topic at hand. As I said, there will be many topics I will mention and will return to write about in future articles such as 1) a dysfunctional social system, 2) the horrors of Allegheny County Jail which will be referred to ACJ from now on. 3) a legal system fraught with nonsensical decisions and workings 4) some homeless shelters that claim to be Christian or part of a "ministry" and in many ways are none of those things.

Let us now begin at day number one of finding myself homeless. I was finally released from ACJ after serving 15 months for driving with a suspended license (DUI related) - no DUI but lost years ago because of DUI. It was a probation violation after I had successfully spent 90 days on house arrest for the same/actual charge(s). Probations recommendation to the venerable and miserable Judge Gerald Todd (yes I am bitter) was "no action". Forget (not really) Judge Todd's own personal trip to ACJ for DUI. Some judges feel stern judgments erases or modifies their own transactions, but yes, this will be a future article! Needless to say, Judge Todd decided to have action.

I had made the best of ACJ. I wrote well over 100 letters for fellow inmates to judges, attorneys and probation officers to help them claim and get credit for days already served and/or to express to the intended person the changes they have made and will continue to make once released. As far as credit for time already served but "forgotten about" at their sentencing hearing, this "lost" paperwork costs people, human beings, days of their lives they can never get back. Yes, yes another article.

I also tutored countless students at ACJ to help them acquire their GED. I also had been fortunate to be asked to work at the school as a janitor. I can honestly say that every teacher and staff member from the Program Director, Jack Pishke to the guards on duty = "Chap" and Mr. Young were and are stellar people. They and I feel that the school should be treated as the gem(s) of ACJ as they actually help inmates rebuild weakened foundations to hopefully result in becoming positive contributors to society. Unfortunately, the current warden and his immediate staff seem to see repeat offenders as "job security". (Future articles!)

One day I had gone into "the red" - meaning the process to release me had begun. I was happy on one level but stressed on another as I had no idea where I was going once released. As I mentioned to some staff members, I was probably the first inmate to actually to ask for at least one extra day so I could attempt to make the appropriate arrangements. I had lost my home to foreclosure. The week before my "unfortunate incarceration" - I was in the middle of a remodification hearing/process and had finally landed a job as a chemist that would have resulted in the keeping of my home. As I had no one to help me on the outside and could not work or be at the final hearing, the foreclosure resumed. Chase sold my home to Fannie Mae for money owed therefore losing any and all equity. The bad aspect of this is that all my personal possessions such as over $50,000 of jewelry (my mother's), HER ASHES!, two church icons estimated at 800-1000 years old, Waterford crystal, artwork, many etc. were confiscated by the property manager the bank had hired. They had given me one day, the next day, when I was in jail to get my possessions out, but I needed several days to get things arranged. The property manager took- really stole- all my items. This property manager, Chase and Fannie Mae will be the target of a lawsuit once I find the right attorney. What the banks allowed the property manager to do is criminal = future article(s)! I have recently found out that chase and the foreclosure attorneys did not to an ejection motion making any confiscation of property illegal. One well known attorney said I have a strong case to sue but a few hundred thousand dollars they would win for themselves is not enough. Another article.

I told the releasing staff member I had no home to go to which he found humorous. He gave me a one-way, one zone bus pass and an address to a homeless shelter in East Liberty (yes, the same neighborhood of my unfortunate and almost fatal shortcut - oh the irony). All I had were my slacks, shoes, shirt and tie I wore in August of 2013 for my probation hearing, a hot day. Now it was late October, 2014 = cold and rainy.

I walked around downtown and first went into the bus station to have a little warm time to think. I saw a security guard going around asking for tickets. Needless to say, I walked out, entered a bar and sat down with my huge clear plastic bag filled with important papers. I had no money so I asked a waiter (after agonizing to get the courage to do so) for his phone. He was nice and said of course. As I found out later the bag was a dead give away I was just released from ACJ. I called a guy who had been in ACJ and released several months before me who said he would come pick me up. He never came.

I used my bus pass to go to East Liberty. The address ACJ gave me was not a shelter. It was nothing. Now I was stranded in the rain and walked around aimlessly trying to fight panic but then depression does a good job helping with that. I suddenly remembered an ex-coworker who lived nearby. She had been one of my closest friends. She was glad- and surprised- to see me. They tried to get me into a shelter but apparently one has to get a bed (or couch) via reservation as one does a vacation. In this case, a vacation in hell.

My friend was OK with me staying the night sleeping on an enlarged ottoman but her daughters were not. This greatly added to my ever growing mountain of shame and embarrassment. All embarrassment aside, I was happy to see my friend and very grateful for the ability to get out of the rain and cold.

There was a social group who was represented by someone I shall name Adam, who would come to the jail with the offer to help me. What was supposed to be weekly visits only occurred at every several months at best. The intentions of this group were and are good but intentions that are ignored or not acted on, often hurt more than no help at all. As I like this group immensely and use them for their computer and help with insurance, I will traipse lightly on them for now. They are the first to admit that they are also the victims of a chaotic and often dysfunctional social system.

In the morning, I walked to their office. Arron met me there and very generously worked very hard to find me a bed/shelter. There was none to be found in Pittsburgh. He actually drove me up to Butler, PA where he was told there was a bed for me. After a 50 minute drive, we were told there was no bed. We finally found a group that would provide a room for one night at a motel. If I utilized this room, I would not be allowed to use a shelter the next day. It was either/or. This made no sense to Arron and I but since I had no other choice for that night, I took the room. This was like staying at a luxury resort after my stay at ACJ. The one lady at this emergency situation agency was so saddened by my plight she insisted I take $20. I was grateful but for a while, I would not take the money. This lady- and her co-worker- truly had empathy and compassion and will be people I will never forget. I was mortified and so full of shame. The realization of being homeless began the feelings of hopelessness, frustration and shame. Thankfully, I was still feeling the great joy of being free from ACJ not realizing a new form of incarceration was only just beginning. The true bright spot for me that first night of my first full day out of ACJ was having access to a TV where I could spend the evening watching my favorite cable station, MSNBC. I love and admire each and every host and it was, in a crazy but wonderful way, like being with family again.

The next day, Arron drove all the way back to Butler with the news he found me a bed in Pittsburgh. The name of the shelter shall remain a secret for now as I am still staying there. What I thought would be a week or two stay has now wrapped up it's second month with no escape in sight. I will name it a most "Unpleasant" place but I am still grateful.

I was put on a couch as all the beds were taken but, again, I was grateful. Their couch is many times more comfortable than a bunk bed at ACJ. This only being my second day out of ACJ, I was still full of hope and goals. I felt, and still do, that with hard work, determination and HOPE these goals would and can be realized, attainable. Some days, I'm not so sure. As I was to find out, our social system is a huge, hard to navigate patchwork of groups/ agencies that promise to help but often cannot or do not deliver. The vast majority, again, have the best intentions but they too are the victims of this difficult social system. Once when I was frustrated, angry and depressed, I espoused to a social worker that most, if not all, of these groups provide things like bus passes, food stamps, etc. amount to little more than what a Band-Aid would have on a severed artery or a popsicle stick on a compound fracture. Again, one is grateful for this "help" but all it does is elongate the frustration and agony of trying to lift oneself up from this level of prolonged stagnation. One group from Goodwill, actually came to the jail and filled me with hope they would find me temporary housing and find me a job. Once released, this same person was a bit more negative to talk to and sang an entirely different song. The housing would take at least 6 months and the help finding a job would be their permission to use a computer to navigate the internet, to look for work. As I have said many times, I do not wish to be handed a job; just help me acquire an interview. With 9 years of college, a high IQ and many other positive attributes, I can "sell" myself. Just find me a potential "buyer". Another bad aspect to getting an interview is the fact that Chase/Fannie Mae/property manager threw my clothes away or sold them as most were designer and no agency could provide me with decent clothes for an interview.

For now, I will wrap up this article. I know I came across as harsh- perhaps harsher than I intended - but I want the reader to feel my frustration, anger and sadness with a system that often does not work. One social worker printed a list of agencies that might help which was well over one inch thick! Imagine if these groups could and would combine forces, talents and monies, what things could be accomplished. Several people at the shelter I am staying at feel the workers in agenies subconsciously - or consciously- want us stay where we are as we are the reason they get funded and therefore have jobs. That jaundiced, I have not become.......yet. As I said before, I still believe they ( the workers at agencies) are also the victims of a totally chaotic and dysfunctional social system, stymied by bureaucracy. It had lost it's original intention, that being not only to allow people to survive but help them become self sufficient.. I have to believe that or God help us all that need their help. As I will write about later, a large percentage of homeless people have given up. Yes, sometimes it is because of health and psychological aberrations but these people need help even more than people like me who are capable of doing much of the work of lifting oneself up.

I accidentally and quite unexpectedly caught a refection of my face a few weeks ago and for the first time I saw a face showing a level of sadness and hopelessness I had never seen it express before. I cannot tell you how surreal and discomforting it is to be walking among my fellow men at this time of "goodwill towards all men", hear all my favorite Christmas songs and feel overwhelmed by sadness. Yes, tears too.

Future articles will be filled with the day to day happenings of a homeless person. The indignities that are inflicted on us by people who do not want to see us. Wait until I go into great detail about a security guard, on Thanksgiving day, at Allegheny General Hospital. Yes, a sneak peek ahead. Writing has always been a great vent for my internal frustrations, anger and sadness and this article was a good release valve. I thank the reader for allowing me to share it and "listening". No matter what, I hope to never lose my drive, feeling of hope and determination to pull myself out of this quagmire of an inadequate social system and free myself from its endless supply of "Band aids".

The End of the Article- Not My Journey

Future articles will be filled with the day to day happenings of a homeless person, the indignities that are inflicted on us by people who do not want to see us. Wait until I go into great detail about a security guard, on Thanksgiving day, at Allegheny General Hospital. Yes, a sneak peek ahead. Writing has always been a great vent for my internal frustrations, anger and sadness and this article was a good relief valve. I thank the reader for allowing me to share it and "listening". No matter what, I hope to never lose my drive, feeling of hope and determination to pull myself out of this quagmire of an inadequate social system and free myself from its endless supply of "Band Aids".

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    • Peter Grujic profile image
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      Peter Alexander 8 months ago from Pittsburgh

      It is certainly an experience. The ironic aspect is that the majority of the staff were homeless themselves at one point.

      I hope you life has improved for you. Never give up.

      Take care.

    • profile image

      Bill Jones 8 months ago

      I also stayed at Pleasant Valley. I also found it an ugly place to stay. the staff, except for a few, were very disrespectful.

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      Sally Hdlansky 2 years ago

      Interesting to see homeless through someone's eyes, especially someone not typical of being homeless