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Short Story About Homelessness: The Homeless Man and His House
A New Day Dawns in Detroit for the Homeless Man
The sound of people starting their cars up to go to work is what usually woke him every morning. He stayed on a street on the east side of Detroit where, though there were several abandoned homes, many of the residents got up early to start their day. Nearby streets were abandoned to drug activity, homelessness, and crime. He stayed off those streets.
Inside the homeless man's abandominium (slang used to describe abandoned houses), he got up off his pallet: a rotten collection of filthy blankets and sleeping bags he had heaped upon the wooden floor to create a cushion on which to sleep. He looked around the room. It was an upstairs bedroom. There was grimy plastic over the sole window. Over in one corner, some ghost from the past had gotten cold enough to risk a fire. The charred plaster and wood seemed to stare back at him.
The house was abandoned long ago. Much like countless other houses in the area, owners had been foreclosed on, or had gone to jail, or worse. He had no idea who the owner of the house used to be. It was Deek’s house now, and Deek and his crew allowed him to stay there; that’s all that mattered to him.
When he had first moved his stuff in here, he had jumped at every sound and worried constantly that the owners would return and find him there. After awhile, that particular fear faded. Deek had shown up one day and asked him why he was there. He told him his situation and a typical street arrangement was made where he would spend whatever money he spent on drugs to buy them from Deek, or one of the people working for the drug dealer. It was a common way that the homeless could acquire a small amount of security.
With the arrangement, which soon became known among the people frequenting the street, the homeless man was left alone. No one bothered him, beat him for fun, or told him to get out of the house. He had attained pseudo-customer status, and that meant no one was to stop him from bringing money to Deek.
He grabbed a small cardboard box off the floor and produced a cold bagel. He ate it standing there in the dim morning light that struggled to reach him through the softly shimmering plastic window. The hardwood floors that had been so magnificent in their prime were now greasily coated with time objectified. He knew from experience that if your skin touched that floor, it would stick to it. He had been revolted by the sensation, and he always remembered to stand or set himself on his pallet. Most of his meals were eaten standing, as he ate his tasteless breakfast now.
He often wondered what had happened to the people that lived here. There was no evidence left behind, or if there was, a previous squatter had cleared it out or sold it. He imagined that several families had lived in the two-story home over the years. It saddened him, for reasons unknown, that the house had lost favor with normal people. It seemed to deserve better.
The homeless man was thirsty. For the past two nights he had failed to procure enough water for morning. He wouldn't make the same mistake again tonight. He went over toward the shut and locked wooden door and unlocked it. He grabbed his tattered Army fieldjacket – insignia, rank, and name dutifully removed – and went out, closing the door behind him.
The Homeless Man and His Corner
Not only out of need but out of what eventually became desire, the homeless man had become a hustler. There were legitimate reasons for his reliance on other people's pity: food, clothing, and blankets. But nearly every cent he earned panhandling went for either drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.
So as he left the street where "his" house stood and waited to cross the main boulevard before him, he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw no one else working the corner.
"The Corner" was the intersection of the interstate service drive and the boulevard. It separated the city from the suburbs and was heavily patrolled by a variety of law enforcement agencies. There were stop lights for traffic heading both north and west, providing ample chance for the opportunistic beggar to earn from compassionate motorists.
The corner, which the homeless man considered to be his corner, was lucrative and had the distinction of being the safest place to avoid arrest or harassment from passing police. This being the case, the homeless man wasn't the only beggar who plied his trade there. But this morning, it was bereft of any other and the homeless man felt the same short jolt of elation he always felt when he approached to find it empty.
He passed under a concrete overpass, his feet crunching gravel and broken glass. A brisk spring breeze blew discarded paper cups and plastic wrappers along the ground like strange urban tumbleweeds. A broken shopping cart leaned against a massive, nearby pillar. A few soggy plastic bags were matted to its steel wire bottom.
The homeless man approached the corner and unzipped his faded green field jacket. Reaching inside, he withdrew a folded cardboard sign. The light turned red and several cars pulled up and waited. He turned to face traffic and unfolded the weathered sign. It read:
A raven-haired woman in a red Mitsubishi SUV glanced briefly in his direction. The light turned green and the motorists sped off.
The homeless man stood in the morning sunshine and waited with his arms at his sides, holding his sign. He was nearly six feet tall with a thin build. He wore a blue knit cap pulled low over shorn brown hair. Black and gray stubble peppered his jaw and cheeks, and green eyes searched the traffic hoping to snare a furtive glance and convey their silent, practiced message: help me.
His was a perfected art learned from years of living on the street. Homelessness had become a permanent state of mind; he had no one to call and no way back to a lifeline let go long ago and eventually severed with broken promises and drug addiction.
He stood on the corner as resolute as any legitimate worker and his daily toil would end long after other normal people had gone home to warm homes and loving families. His was a solitary existence and he'd long forgotten human concepts like self-pity and loneliness.
The homeless man was a lost soldier with bad memories, and as his penetrating and sorrowful gaze scanned the next lot of travelers stopped at a red light, all his thought was bent on only one thing: getting money from them to buy drugs so he could get his first hit of the day.
The dollar bills and change added up over the next hour and when he had enough to get what he needed to stop any resurfacing of bitter reality, he turned and left the corner behind...for now.