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What Does it Mean to be Homeless?

Updated on March 19, 2015
Safe Haven on Nakoosa Trail.
Safe Haven on Nakoosa Trail.
February 2014: My U-Haul Storage
February 2014: My U-Haul Storage
Personal photo of a homeless person at the Capitol on East Washington.
Personal photo of a homeless person at the Capitol on East Washington.

“People don’t understand what it really means to be homeless.” He said to me in the confines of a small commercial looking kitchen with the company of the staff that worked there. “They hoard all this stuff they have to carry around and don’t understand what it’s like to just carry around what they absolutely need.”

I couldn’t argue with him. I didn’t know what it meant to have nothing, to own nothing but the clothes on my back. Throughout this yearlong ordeal of being homeless I have not allowed myself to lose it all. I would not allow those precious possessions to escape my grasp, which were my memories and also meant comfort would be further delayed. I wouldn’t have that personal shame. My mother has shown me what it means to carry such shame.

Although I didn’t take what this man was saying to heart, it still weighs heavily on my mind. He is a cad anyway, and delights in giving the person with whom he is engaging in conversation “a hard time,” as the proverbial phrase goes. The conversation started when I asked him if he would help move my stuff on the first of December, and thus he also made the contemptuous remark that women are most likely to be “hoarders,” regardless of their lack of permanent housing. I am used to his senseless ribbing, and appreciate his honesty all the same.

I was lucky enough to have a place to keep my stuff.
I was lucky enough to have a place to keep my stuff.
By summer I couldn't access my storage. I still found ways to keep certain things I felt I needed most.
By summer I couldn't access my storage. I still found ways to keep certain things I felt I needed most.

Or is it really honesty? I question his motive in criticizing my need to keep the certain possessions that I have left. The conversation turned to this almost scathing critique after he made a thorough explanation as to why he couldn’t help me move.

I have been staying in this particular shelter for a month and a half. It is a particular shelter for particular homeless people who suffer from varying degrees of mental illness. I’ve known, and playfully conversed, with this particular gentleman since springtime. I had noticed that his wardrobe greatly decreased once the cold weather hit.

Yet that is an understatement in itself considering his summer attire didn’t seem all that vast either. When making his angry observations on the downfall of homeless women as hoarders he mentioned clothing as the most aggravating thing about the amount of items that were so desperately hoarded.

I could only concede with his inability to assist me with the use of his vehicle, and gave only a smile and nod to his accusations that I wasn’t a “real homeless person.” At the time I didn’t even think of the argument that if his vehicles could not be legally used, and he had no way to fix that, why would he be hoarding them? I did not mistype, he does in fact have more than one vehicle, and I am hard-pressed to ask as to why he doesn’t want to hoard more things considering he has the ability to store more items than other homeless people.

Yet I will explore my angst with this article. I wouldn't want to misplace my feelings of anger onto him. But who is he to tell me what homelessness really is anyway? I wonder if he has ever woken up from a night of sleeping on the concrete. I thank the Universe that I had padding between my body and the cold brick patio that wrapped around the boathouse where I slumbered.

'Behavior' problems create menace on upper State Street, leaders say
'Behavior' problems create menace on upper State Street, leaders say | Source
Personal belongings of a homeless person are left at intersection near the Madison Municipal Building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard recently.
Personal belongings of a homeless person are left at intersection near the Madison Municipal Building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard recently. | Source
A homeless person's belongings at curb in front of the Madison Municipal Building.
A homeless person's belongings at curb in front of the Madison Municipal Building. | Source

Around the stones, an outside courtyard at the top of the ever-bustling State Street in the shadow of the Capitol is where homeless people are more prone to congregate in the summer.

They will sit on the scattered stone sculptures that are molded into different geometrical shapes that make for perfect sitting devices. I have seen these people, these miserable wretches of varying skin hues and tattered or immaculate clothing and accessories who would gather there all day long.

The ones who are more tattered would lie out on the concrete to sleep. It seems it is more the men than the women who I see do this. Though a particular woman, whom I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog entry, is one woman I spotted on a few occasions stretched out between some men enjoying a midday snooze.

Yet why mention her again? It would seem as though I am straying from the original topic of this article but I think that I am growing ever close to the actual problem, or subject. What does it really mean to be homeless?

I wonder if my mother knows what it really means. Or maybe, in her misguided guilt and pain from the ghosts of past mistakes she has come to the idea that she is eschewing the capitalistic need to constantly procure things.

When I was still a teenager, and far away from her custody, the vehicle owned by she and her husband, broke down on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere. It, and the possessions it held, where abandoned there. Those possessions included clothes, but the most precious cargo of my siblings’ childhood memories and mine were discarded without an effort on either of their part to return to them. To this day it is something that weighs heavily on my heart.

This is why I do not bring my grievance to the gentleman subject of this article. How much of what he said affected my pride at keeping the items I have? Or did his scathing arguments affect the anger I still feel at my mother for losing those childhood items that were so dear to me?

I look into this man’s eyes and see the playful light of hope as his silly accusations and slightly hurtful words slip easily from his mouth. I don’t see this light in my mother’s eyes anymore. I cannot pinpoint when this certain warmth left my mother, this undeniable glow that illuminates not only the pupils of the subject, but their facial features in a whole.

Summer 2014- A few "everyday provisions" at the bench near the boathouse I used to sleep at.
Summer 2014- A few "everyday provisions" at the bench near the boathouse I used to sleep at.
Summer 2014- Settling in for a night outside at the boathouse.
Summer 2014- Settling in for a night outside at the boathouse.

Even now I think that I am certainly mistaken. There still has to be some ounce of hope or faith in my mother's countenance that her living situation would be easier one day. It has been months since I have spoken with my family. I don’t have the need to search for that certain optimism from any of them anymore. I’ve come to realize the effort is futile.

I know for a fact that I have never seen the aforementioned homeless woman display such a characteristic. The light of hope and faith is a lot easier for me to distinguish from the glint of drunkenness and ruddy pallor of one’s skin when intoxicated. Even a mischievous light of obtaining the person’s vice of choice is not mistaken as the illumination from expectation of great things to happen in one’s life.

Or is this arrogance on my part? I suppose this persona is what most homeless people see in me. During the summer I had no money, I refused to beg, I refused to let a man to take care of me, I refused to resort back to selling drugs. I took my pain and suffering in stride, knowing that if I could get through this then I could find hope in everything. I had faith in my personal strength.

I just never stopped believing in myself. It wasn’t something that I remembered everyday, yet I think this is the difference. This is what I think may make a real homeless person, or at least the type of homeless person that the gentleman subject of this article may have been referring to.

It may be a requirement, as a “real homeless person,” to have lost all hope of a better life. To be considered truly homeless then one would have to resolve themselves to their present fate and never again wish for something better than the cold hard slab of concrete they sleep on, the handouts from well meaning citizens, nourishment from the innumerable charities.

This is what I deduce from the man’s insinuation that I am not a real homeless person. Because by the dictionary’s assertion, what I have been through this last year would make me the poster case of homelessness, although in my estimation a fashionably fabulous version. Which is another reason why I won’t continue the disagreement with him on what is a real homeless person; by his own account he wouldn’t be considered a real homeless person either.

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    • ThompsonD profile image
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      Deirdre Adele Thompson 2 years ago from Danville, IL

      Thank you very much Robert!

    • Robert Levine profile image

      Robert Levine 2 years ago from Brookline, Massachusetts

      Deirdre, the clarity and forthrightness of this piece--emotional as well as literary--is astounding.

    • ThompsonD profile image
      Author

      Deirdre Adele Thompson 2 years ago from Danville, IL

      Thank you ladies, for your comments!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      I had to stay overnight by the beach without any extra clothes, bear the cold air, it was terrible being homeless, that was singapore national day, when the publuc transport was halted

    • profile image

      Fire8storm 2 years ago

      Another powerful article, well written with reflections and introspection on a topic few wish to discuss openly. A must share!

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