The Face Of Homelessness: A Moment With Bill Reflection
SOME INITIAL THOUGHTS
The playing field of life is not level. Never has been and never will be. There are many in Bangladesh who know this to be true. There are many in India, England, Croatia and yes, the United States, who know this to be true.
Being born into abject poverty means your life is pretty well scripted out before you reach the age of one. The self-help gurus can talk about infinite possibilities but really, it is just a bunch of rubbish for the five year old in Nairobi whose father is dead and whose mother is working the streets as a prostitute.
Books like the “Power of Positive Thinking” can be printed until hell freezes over, but they have little effect on the Vietnam vet with PTSD who can’t get the benefits he fought for.
You can talk about retraining until you are blue in the face, but how does one retrain a single mother of four with no education?
The problems at the root of homelessness are endless. The rhetoric is spouted from the nearest pulpit and from the Halls of Congress, but solutions are few and far between.
Meanwhile, the numbers are growing. Travel the streets of any major city in the world and you will see the harsh reality. People are suffering, the situation continues to worsen, and there are no answers.
Do you doubt it? Perhaps we should meet a few of the homeless and then we will better understand.
Concerned citizens helping others
- National Alliance to End Homelessness
Groups like this one, on a community level, are the answer to ending homelessness in this country.
ARNIE IN OLYMPIA
Six foot four, 320 pounds, moving slowly down the sidewalk at three a.m. pushing a grocery cart….that was my first sighting of Arnie M. from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Each night on my paper route I would see Arnie, and eventually we began a dialogue that would continue the next night, and the next, through clear skies, rain, hail and snow.
Arnie told me he served two terms in Iraq, and when he came home he knew something wasn’t right. “I got angry too easy, Bill,” he told me one night. “There I was in the town I was born in, fresh out of the Army, but nothing was the same. Little things would piss me off, and I started getting into fights over stupid shit. I went to the Post and asked to see a doctor, but there were delays….and then the booze took over….and my family was afraid of me and didn’t want me around….so one day I grabbed some clothes, tossed them in a backpack, and started walking down the road.”
I asked him one night if there was anything I could do for him.
“Nah, I’ve got everything I need, Bill. I know a lot of the folks on the street. I guess you could say they are my family now. The Mission down the road has warm meals when I’m short of cash, and I always seem to find a dry place to sleep on rainy nights. It’s best this way, you know. I don’t belong in your world any longer. This is my home.”
SHANIA FROM SEATTLE
Damn pretty girl. That’s what I thought one warm July night as I was finishing my route. There she was, sitting on a raised flower bed in front of the Starbucks. She couldn’t have been much older than twenty with long blonde hair. She smiled at me as I delivered the papers and asked me if I had a dollar for some coffee when the Starbucks opened in four hours.
We got to talking as night people will do, and I asked her what she was doing on the streets at that hour.
“I couldn’t sleep. The ground was too hard so I thought I’d walk around a bit and try for some sleep again later.”
I explained that I meant why was she on the streets at all. She told me it wasn’t safe at home in Seattle. Her step-dad kept abusing her until one night she decided it couldn’t be any worse on her own, so she hitched a ride south to Olympia and she had been here for six months now.
“It can get pretty dangerous out here, but nowhere near as bad as at home with that drooling, drunken asshole pawing me.”
I knew better than to give advice. That’s a fool’s errand at best, and until you have walked the walk of the homeless you have no business giving advice to one of them. I gave her five bucks and told her I’d see her around.
I never did. I have wondered often this past year what happened to her. All those dreams she had as a little girl….all the unfulfilled expectations….all wrapped up in a blanket with her spare clothes, slung over her back.
MARIA AND HER KIDS, LUCAS AND TIMOTHY
The rain was heavy that night, the kind of rain that makes a man wonder if sunshine will ever again return. The little family was huddled under an awning of a local supermarket, looking about as cold and miserable as it’s possible for human beings to look. Drowned rats came to mind as I pulled my pickup to the curb and pulled my North Face jacket tight around my neck.
I asked her how she was doing and she nodded in reply. No smiles on this one, only the blank look of a woman who has seen far too much of the dark side and is wondering if this stranger is going to add to her woes. Her two sons were huddled under each of her arms, shivering in the cold as the rain relentlessly drummed on the sidewalk.
“Don’t you have any place to stay?” I asked, feeling foolish as the words escaped my lips.
She shook her head. “The Mission is full up tonight; we got there late and missed out on a bed.”
“What about family? What about a home? There must be someone!”
“Family is all back in North Carolina. They disowned me when I married my husband, a black man. We moved out west for a new beginning, had us a home, had us these two sons, and then he got shot in a drive-by down in Portand two years ago. I didn’t have a job and we lost our home. We’ve been on the streets ever since.”
She asked me if I could spare some used newspapers. She said they make good insulation for their coats, and the nights were getting colder. I gave her ten papers and the first smile appeared, accompanied by a quiet thank you.
I haven’t seen them since although I always look for them when I’m in that part of town. I’m not sure why I do…I guess because a brief connection was made that night… four human beings in the dark of night, passing a few moments to ward off the loneliness.
One idea that would work
- Homeless Housing Solutions: Wooden Pallet Homes
Read about an unorthodox idea that could help to house more of the homeless in America.
Individuals getting involved
- H.O.W. Humanity One World: The 9 Nanas
Nine remarkable women spend thirty-five years helping the needy with random acts of kindness.
I HAVE ANSWERS BUT NOBODY IS LISTENING
I have been homeless. Perhaps that’s why the Marias, Arnies and Shanias of the world touch me so deeply, although I would hope I would feel the same way even if I hadn’t lived out there. My street sentence only lasted two weeks, but it was the longest two weeks of my life.
As Mother Teresa said, the real pain is not the hunger. The real misery is not lacking a place to sleep. No, the real gut-wrenching misery comes from knowing that nobody cares….knowing that nobody gives a damn whether you live or die. It is at that moment, under the weight of that realization, that death appears to be a viable alternative.
Of course there are answers. This is the United States of America, purported to be the richest nation on Earth. We can feed all of the hungry in this country for the cost of development of one weapons’ system. We can home all the homeless for the cost of an unmanned probe to Mars. We could fund medical and psychological services for all who need them for the cost of one aid package for Bolivia…..but we don’t….because….nobody in an authority position cares about them. That is the cold, hard truth.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty….our symbol of Liberty, proclaiming to the world our intentions, as a country, to help those in need….but what about our own? Who will feed them? Who will take in our homeless? Who will help our tired and poor, our huddled masses?
I Cry Real Tears
Join our H.O.W. movement
- Humanity One World: H.O.W. To Get Involved!
It is time for the second phase of H.O.W....what can you do? Other than write articles, what can you do, a specific step towards raising awareness?
H.O.W. ARE WE GOING TO HELP THEM ALL?
One person at a time, and for that, I am responsible….and so are you!
Until the day comes when our government truly represents all of the citizens of this country, the onus of action is on each of us. Do not tell me that you are too busy to help or I will say shame on you. Do not tell me that it is none of your business because I will say shame on you. Do not tell me you can’t get involved or I will say shame on you.
Every single one of you reading this has seen the homeless in your city. How can you miss them? They are everywhere that you look unless you live in a neighborhood that has a police force that does not allow them in your precious city. How many of you have spoken to a homeless person before? Or do you cross the street so you don’t have to pass in front of them?
These are human beings! These are citizens of the same country that you live in, making them your countrymen and women, and yet they are ignored, avoided, shunned and then, the cruelest act of all, they are forgotten.
Join me please, before Maria, Arnie and Shania die out there and nobody is there to witness it.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)