The View From the Bottom: Homelessness in America - Preface
This is the first in a series of articles about my experiences as a homeless person living in the U.S Northeast. I write this knowing full well the appeal of such a series will be limited.
There are many people that operate on the assumption that if one is homeless, that one must be a junkie, a bum, a thief, irresponsible, or in other ways must be, by definition, the American version of the Indian sub-continent’s untouchable, an outcast, something sub-human. Those folks never made it past the title of this post. As this is unthinking prejudice, it represents a point of view not amenable to logic and reason and therefore there is nothing one can say to such people. Thanks for stopping by.
Some, whose circumstances are similar to mine, may not want to know what may be in store for them. For these I will say that, however terrifying it is to consider things you’d rather not think about, the terror of the unknown is always eased when nameless dread is replaced by actual knowledge of a thing; it gives you a measure of power over it. It is the wolves unseen that are always more frightening. Further, it is hoped that these articles, if I do my job right, may serve as something of a “how-to” for those facing life without a home once the wolves have actually gotten through the door.
Others, looking for nothing more than light, meaningless diversion that doesn’t tax the intellect may stop now and skip ahead to the next literary trifle, the next frothy little bon mot. But I promise, for those looking for meatier fare, that this will not be a grinding, dirge-like, me-oh-my tale of woe, that it will be as faithful a reportage as I can manage of the experience of homelessness, which, because it is human, must perforce exhibit the full range of attributes common to all human experience; its drama, its humor, its warmth, its pathos, and its ludicrous absurdity (Ludicrousity? Absurdicrouty? Absurdiludicrousity?).
Nowhere is it my intent to garner sympathy. While I appreciate the intent behind the offering up of warm, fuzzy words of consolation and hope, I have no use for them, especially from this insubstantial, chimera-like realm of cyberspace (contrast cybersex with the actual experience of lovemaking). Far more useful to me is actual interaction with flesh and blood people; the harried, stressed volunteer at the food pantry, the supervisor at Catholic Charities who was able to offer a sympathetic ear and a warm heart, though her office couldn’t do a thing for me. The hulking, Jamaican ex-cop who worked as a supervisor of volunteers at the Salvation Army soup kitchen, who eased my moral terror of being transformed by hunger into a thief, forced to abandon my values because of the need to survive, who assured me that there were services adequate in the city of Worcester that I should never go hungry and become a bad person.
Actual letters, however, would be most welcome. There’s something about handling paper that someone took the time and effort to write upon that conveys a warmth and sincerity wholly lacking in email or (shudder) instant messaging, or comments on the walls of Facebook.
Though I am not homeless yet in the strictest sense, I have received my eviction notice, and the sheriff will be here about mid-December when the legal process has run its course. The land-line phone has long been shut off and with it access to the internet. Fortunately the electricity is still on, though I am seriously in arrears and expect the shut-off notice any day now. Heat and hot water are provided by the landlord so I am warm and can stay clean for the time being. And I have gotten plugged in to at least some of those social services available to people who find themselves neck-deep in doo-doo, such as food stamps, Masshealth, the state-sponsored health insurance plan, and a federally-funded (for the time being) Safelink mobile phone with two-hundred fifty minutes per month. I am in the process of getting medical and mental care but the process of actually seeing doctors is long and labyrinthine.
But first, for those dying to know, a little background. I’m a fifty-two year old white male living in Worcester, Massachusetts. Although I’ve only gotten as far as the first year of college, I’m generally considered quite bright. I have stellar verbal skills, and have some facility stringing together nouns and verbs, with a smattering of pronouns, adjectives and adverbs liberally sprinkled in between. I was married for a time, getting divorced in 1993. I have no children.
I had lost my job in a call center about sixteen months ago, and the unemployment ran out the first week of July. The economy being what it is, and the fact that I am all but unemployable, means that I haven’t been able to find a job. I have tried selling items, but no one around here has any money. Worcester is a depressed, post-industrial town and has been hurting for the last half-century, long before the present economic difficulties.
I have no friends or family to take me in when I am finally evicted, so off to the shelters I will go, and then the adventure will truly begin. Boo-hoo and ho hum. My biggest concern is to find a place to stash my warm clothes and foul weather gear in expectation of the nasty winters typical to New England; snow, rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail, what-have-you. After that is sanitation. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Though I haven't been turned out yet I can still paint a true portrait of the state of things for the dispossessed, for although I can’t write with any authority of the experience of homelessness yet, I have been moving among them and the people who work with them. They are, in fact, my new social milieu.
So ends the preface to this series, the boring stuff, the setting of the stage. For the great majority of you, the well-heeled and comfortable, who navigate the blogosphere and are willing to look, allow me to be your eyes, and you will see, O gentle reader, marvels in the most unexpected of places.
Coming up in the next installment: Part 1, The Zoo.