Last year, I would happily go to the library everyday. A lot of times I would joke to myself that I was going to see "my boyfriend." Situated about a half mile from the Salvation Army where I stayed in the shelter, the Central branch of the Madison Public Library always seems to welcome me with open arms. When I approach the tall bank of windows at the front entrance I feel as though I am going home.
Which is why when there are unsavory homeless people at the library I feel personally hurt. Unlike most other of the homeless I use the library as a sanctuary to escape hectic drama. I can create my own drama, so I don't need to be a part to theirs.
Horrifying memories of beaten, and bruised faces seeking shelter and safety drove me to focus on being alone last year. Knowing that I loved being at the library, also that I will do crafts and work on my writing no matter what, makes my heart feel so good. At that time, and even now I frequent the library almost everyday.
I am once again on the streets. Some bad choices have left me suspended from the Salvation Army at the moment. After another falling out with my family, I am ready to reinstate the former hiatus I had taken. I have no worries this time. I have a better understanding of these streets to survive now.
I am so blessed to have some friends who are willing to help me. I am also willing to ask and work for that help. That is hard because I don’t want to feel like a burden. Last year however I had to turn down so many that wanted to help me.
These were inappropriate homeless men however. Their talk was good and the dreams they tried to sell made beautiful, starry visions of love in my mind. They were all full of shit. I didn’t need to learn this. I could smell them from a mile away.
I could never understand why so many of these women put up with the nonsense these bum ass men create. They may have been strong for a while and had to cave because of the constant pressure of their “courting.” The streets are hard as well. It can take money to be homeless. There have been a lot of homeless men who have insisted that I need their help.
When first coming into the Madison homeless scene in 2014, filthy mouthed homeless men accosted me whenever I was in their vicinity. When I had unemployment checks coming in I could disappear from the places the homeless habit. I would frequent the YMCA, the Sequoya Madison Public Library branch, and different coffee shops (Collectivo is my favorite).
There are many times I would come to the central library and would sequester myself in a study room away from the homeless people. Unfortunately it wasn’t just homeless men that were persistent on hitting on me.
I had watched a well dressed and articulate African man circle the stacks in front of the study room with all glass windows. When he finally approached me a few days after I had frequented the library, he insisted that he wasn't homeless.
“Hello, young lady.” His heavily accented voice strung a deep baritone chord. “I have watched you. You’re beautiful. I see you need help. I have a place. We can talk. Do lunch.”
He didn’t seem to notice that I was uncomfortable. I knew from my body language I was communicating this.
“Uh, thanks sir.” I said in a clear voice. “I don’t think that is going to happen.”
“Don’t make decision now. Think about it. You call me. I’m a good guy, don’t worry.”
Well, I was.
I took the number though. I even talked to him on the occasions that I would run into him at the library.
Before my only housing option fell out from under me, I tried calling him to see if his offer still stood. He told me I could stay the night, but he had his cousin staying with him so I couldn’t move in like he had previously promised. I never called him again.
All of these men were insistent in trying to have sex with me but none of them were actually trying to help me. Not in the way I needed. A lot of the homeless women I came in contact with thought I was ridiculous for turning down all of those men. They would swear that if men were hitting on them all the time they would play it to their advantage.
I already know that game is not something to play with. When a heart is broken, one cannot just say “Sorry.” I refuse to put myself in a situation that could possibly become abusive. That is something I will not deal with.
For most of the time I spent outside in a park last year I was alone. I stopped writing my blog for a while to ensure my space would be safe just for me. The neighborhood where the park is situated is comprised mostly of White people. I was also close to a private college and the arboretum.
The nights in the park differed greatly from sleeping up at the City County Building. Being at the CCB is advantageous for the homeless because of its proximity to the free services that are concentrated downtown. A day shelter at a church, a few places to get a free meal, one of the men’s shelters, and other special events that take place keep the homeless tethered to the Capitol.
The park was removed from the neighborhood around it. The boathouse where I slept sat in the park like an island. Walking down the street that entered the park and led trailered boats to the lakeshore, many times I cried in fear and overwhelming emotions of being alone. The only lights were restricted to the boathouse’s patio.
The CCB is well lit at all times. That doesn’t hinder the homeless tenants from partaking in their drugs of choice or whatever type of behavior that would be best practiced in the safety of their own house. I engaged in many of arguments with the people up there. I may not be perfect, but I do feel like I have some good advice for them to use to change their life. Of course they wouldn’t heed. The women would laugh off my admonitions.
The men, well the Black men, did not appreciate my intellectual generosity. They let me know that they would not have a woman questioning their behavior. Sitting around these men and listening to how they have figured out how to scam passerby on the street taught me lessons about refraining from always needing to voice my opinion. However, after insisting that they treat me with respect or not talk to me any longer, the men let me know if I were not willing to afford them my sexual favors, they would take it upon themselves to procure them from me.
I left the CCB with no looking back. That is when I occupied the park full time. I felt a bit hypocritical whenever I would light up to smoke some weed late at night in the park. When White students came out to the park to do the same thing I didn’t feel so remorseful. I went into survival mode and worked hard through the pain in my back, leg, and foot.
I let my presence around the downtown scene cool down September of 2014. At this time I had found a job. I still had to lug around the large suitcase of my sleeping goods, another sack that was the size of my back and held my clothes, and another small bag to hold my computer and whatever book I was reading.
I had plenty of women who insisted that I was crazy for not even trying to find a man to help me. Two of the women who berated me the most were regularly beaten by the men they would find on the streets. When I left the CCB I knew I had to do get myself together, alone.
At the time I began to heavily practice mindfulness. I didn’t do anything fancy or complicated. Just did my best everyday to stay in the present moment. Summertime in Madison, WI is a beautiful patch of months, filled with many leafy green trees from all the parks, and the low fragrance of the algae growing on the lakes. Incorporating an attitude of gratitude for little things and positivity kept my heart strong throughout the ordeal.
There were times that I was actually happy to wake up in the arms of the dawning sun. It was almost bliss opening my eyes to a chipmunk patiently waiting for me to awake and relinquish any food I had. I was normally without, but there were many times some well-meaning humans would bring me a small breakfast and I would share if the chipmunk stuck around despite all the foot traffic.
Most times I would have to awake before dawn and pack up my sleeping goods and pick out my clothes for the day. By the first week of October I had tired of this routine. I was terribly stressed out and beginning to give up hope.
One morning I awoke in a van that the owner of the boathouse had left parked on his property at the end of the summer season. I was so cold the night before. I packed up my three comforters, two pillows and a sheet to protect the van seat just like I do every morning. I knew that I had to do something different. I had slept in my coat and shoes for the last two weeks. Even with all the insulation I woke up with frozen hands.
I rubbed my hands against my thighs and my teeth chattered. After reliving myself in the woods I readied my daily pack. Armed with a change of clothes and my toiletries, I left the park to catch the bus to get a free meal. I took pain meds at this point and had been attending a chiropractor for five months. I was still in so much pain from sleeping on the ground and the heavy pack I had to carry everyday.
Luckily the bus I had gotten on would take me just a block away from the homeless storage place where I had bird-bathed and changed my clothes for a couple months. Drawing close to the Capitol one of the women who had been vocal about her feelings of disbelief that I wouldn’t want any of the men’s attentions, boarded the bus.
I was already on the bus grimacing from the pain in my hip, back, and leg. When I saw the woman she gingerly stepped on the bus. I motioned for her to sit with me up front. Slowly she took the seat next to me. I asked her what was wrong. She said noting and waved her hand.
We continued to ride in silence.
We departed the bus at the same stop and immediately she began to explain why she was moving so gingerly; her newest “friend” had dragged her down a flight of steps and kicked her over and over. I felt horrible but I wanted to laugh at her.
“See, this is why I’m alone.” I said not trying to keep my feelings out of my voice. “I’m just not going to deal with that. I been told you you could come to the park with me.” I insisted further. She became quiet and mumbled something about she wouldn’t feel safe.
Later that day I found a place to stay at Safe Haven. I went back to the park and made the great and painful effort to transfer all of my stuff to my new room.
At the beginning of February of 2015 I began to write this article. Stuffed with my own ego from my elation at having my own room in a house without staff I wrote this with more of a scathing view of the women. I wish not to judge these women who make the choices to be with these men.
Regardless, I felt very proud of myself for having the courage and commitment to getting my life together enough that I had found a place. And I didn’t have to depend on a man. Although I haven’t been able to get myself out of the places the homeless visit, enough of the Black men believe me to be mean and crazy and so they leave me alone. I don’t mind being alone now anyway. The knowledge that I have wonderful new friends who are willing to help me keeps my heart in constant calming companionship.
I consider this topic months later and I feel the same. As I sit in the central library writing this I can feel the positive charge in my muscle fiber that lets me know I have the will to continue to fight. No matter how many setbacks and mistakes I make I know I will be able to do this without a relationship with a man.