Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
January 23
Agent Provocateur
Yes, have some.
Distinctly undistinguished. Strictly working-class. Misanthropic humanitarian. Lifelong observer and student of the human condition. Wild man in the closet, nut behind the wheel. Wanna go for a ride?

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NOVEMBER 23, 2010 5:16PM

The View From the Bottom: Homelessness in America - Preface

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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.

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WELCOME darlin'.
I just recently went thru a period of actual homelessness.
It truly sucks. I did my time in NC.
At age 52 and long term unemployed, you fit right in with all the fine folks I met, just like you and me.
As I say here, welcome to the party....
I will read, even though it's hard to do so, but I will read and find a way to help others, closer, in the same situation. I wish there were more I could do.
The appeal may be limited, but it must be said and written about. I hope the light bulbs will go off soon when more people become aware of situations like yours...Godspeed, sir. Perhaps the Editor's Pick will help turn around your situation.
Don't discount your cyber support.

You're putting on a brave face but there's no subsitute for experiencing the looks you will get. You will both lose and gain faith in your fellow man.
You look a lot like Scanner.
You are the New Normal: former middle-class reduced to foreclosure, unemployment, no more savings, and no jobs. You are part of a tidal wave but every story is important.
Mister Whindbag, please know that I and many others like me, do not take for granted our place in life, and are well aware that the slightest cosmic shift can put us in line right next to you. That said, I for one am convinced that much is demanded from those who have been given much, and therefore am doing everything I can within my company, the non-profit world and the homeless community to give people like you a new lease on life. ( see http://www.bestworkexchange.org/ ) I am working with Volunteers of America, Denver's Road Home and hopefully, Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles next. I look forward to future posts and your well being..
And the folks who are here truly care Whindbagg. More than you seem to be aware of.
The great state of Massachusetts currently has an unemployment rate of approximately 8%. North Dakota has an unemployment rate of 3.8%. Having said that, I must also warn you that I once passed through North Dakota, and would not want to spend a winter there. However, if the choice is between being homeless in Massachusetts and having a small place of one's own, along with a job in North Dakota ...
Use the Web to try and reach someone or some agency in North Dakota. Try to find something suitable and make your move. I don't see things getting much better in this neck of the woods anytime soon.
Preserve your rationality. faved and rated.
Thank you for writing and being a witness to what many are experiencing. I wish I had more to offer than prayers, but they are yours. Rated
When I was 29 n 1993 after working as a word processor several years after college, I took my guitar and a backpack and hitchhiked out of the rut I was in, traveling and playing folk music from Seattle to Albuquerque back to Seattle for a while, then in 1995 I went to Boulder Colorado then Miami then Albuquerque then Charleston South Carolina, then Kansas City, and on to San Diego where I housesat for two years where I took the time to develop skills in web and graphic design, and landed a job as a web designer for State of Michigan. I got married to a Muslim Indonesian woman and we have two creative daughters. After five years I went to graduate school and got a Master of Science in Geographic Information Science. So for two years I have worked in North Carolina and now in Georgia as a cartographer. When I was stuck in an unemployment rut, I hitchhiked across the country and eventually my difficult road lead me to a creative career in the growing field of geospatial analysis. The entire time I have been writing poetry. I am still on my quest so who knows where we will go next on the road of life.
Whindbagg, you are a resourceful individual who has done your best to ensure your survival. You are also a tremendously effective writer. You will have a lot to offer those who find themselves in the same shoes. Best of luck to you.

I vote for "Ludicrousity". Sarah Palin's got nothing on you.

I appreciate the tone of this piece, hopeful, resilient, fearful, humble and, more than anything, not alone. Oh, and humorous. We have to have humor don't we?

We are hanging on by the skin of our teeth. Welcome to the OS community fold, you can find friendship and support here. I hope you can give a little more weight to cyber support than previously willing - it's helped me a lot.
Dear Whindbagg,

This really is very painful to read as it conjures up so many unwelcome thoughts and images and real feelings of fear. Still, it must be done. Don't stop.

Thinking of you in this terrible time. I only wish I could do more, but things are not so good here either.
our government has a lot to answer for.

A very great welcome aboard from me. I'm nearly two years unemployed in California. Fortunately, my parents are better off than most, and they have been very, very generous. At age 46 myself, it's hard to still lean on Mom and Dad, but I have no other choice other than homelessness.

We have Medically Indigent Services Program, which is public health coverage for poor folk who have an immediate need. I have been fighting a staph infection for over two months now and actually had to stay in the hospital for three days. I THINK it's finally gone now, but you never know.

Congress cut off my UI benefits in April, and they just restarted them again in October, and they're busy catching me up.

You write quite well. I look forward to reading more of your work, and you will fit in quite well, I think. I'm eager to hear what you have to say.
Goddamn but this makes me angry...that in a fat, wealthy country like this, good men like you have to scratch. I'll pray hard for you. Rated.
Goddamn but this makes me angry...that in a fat, wealthy country like this, good men like you have to scratch. I'll pray hard for you. Rated.
Are you sure you're going to be without a home come December? It's my understanding that the banks have foreclosed on so many homes they can no longer keep up, and there are now possibly millions of people living in what used to be their own homes as squatters. The banks quietly tolerate this situation because they are hoping the former owners will keep up the homes for them.

Anyway, good luck.
Oh this sounds so tragic. Heart felt feelings for you. Luckily in Canada no one can be evicted during the winter...regardless. Look forward to reading more about your situation.
This was very hard to read and I hope that at the eleventh hour some miracle will happen and you will not be turned out into the streets during the holidays. There but for the grace of God.
We, most of us who are seated comfortably in cushy chairs in snug little rooms in front of our computers, need to understand how fragile that security is. Your experience may be our experience, but beyond that, we need to understand and care about where you are, and what you are facing.

Thanks for your courage and openness in talking about what you are facing. I don't know if it means anything to you, but we are listening.
Peace to you, brother. I walk and work among the homeless here in the Great Midwest, doing what I can, knowing that, but for the grace of god, there go I. I hope you stay warm and keep yourself fed--and find a way out. (And I would be happy to send you a paper letter. Where?) On a related note: I wonder how many empty bedrooms there are in houses on my street tonight?
I will be interested to read this as you go like a lab rat into this nation's underground and underbelly that many don't even know that is out there. I've been there. Although I now have a disability check to live on now, it barely covers the rent and electric bill. Making ends meet is something I learned long ago. Go gettem' my man, this should be great reading!
You write well enough that, if you really want to to try, you might have this -- and future instalments -- published and paid for; you might try the local newspaper or the Boston papers. I don't know if that would jeopardize access to free housing and care, but I urge you to try....this is timely, compelling and you have the skills to earn income from it.

Call every paper and ask to speak to their features editor. I'd be amazed if no one was interested.

PM me privately if you get nowhere.
This is such good writing and telling your story. I urge you to go to www.guidetoliteraryagents.com. Find one that deals in memoir (Like Betsy Lerner- she responds quickly) and send her this and a proposal for the rest of the book. I really think you have something here, and perhaps you can continue to tell your story and get some kind of income.
With all best wishes
write me anytime....I've worked with this agenting/book stuff for many years and will be glad to impart what I have learned.

Hard to believe there are people sleeping peacefully in nice warm mansions that wake to whine about tax cuts while fully aware of the millions in your shoes. Rated.
Feeling for you. Been there, but I had family to back me up. Finally had to take a really early pension which just pays for rent, utilities and some food.
I went through homelessness in Western mass. in '98-'99...In some ways my story paralle4ls yours, though each person and his story is unique, of course. In my case, I came to grips with a psychioatric issue and received assistance from Health care for the homeless and gradually experienced recovery, while living in four different shelters, the latter more like a halfway house. It was very scary at first, of course, b ut i learned that i have more strength than I realized and also grew as a person as a result...i would be glad to diallogue with you...Patrick
I'd like to echo Caitlin Kelly's comment about pushing your "homeless perspective" on local newspapers, etc...

When I studied abroad in the U.K., the homeless had an organized paper of their own. It was written, produced, and distributed on the streets by homeless people themselves. When I bought the paper I knew that I would be getting authentic views of life on the streets, rather than from someone writing about the homeless from her/his office somewhere....Plus, according to the folks that I talked with, many of them made just enough writing cartoons or editorials to get by on their own...didn't hurt that they also have a socialized system to boot.
All I can really say is that I hope things work out better for you before they get to the eventual conclusion that you are building towards. I was in your shoes not too long ago, and I was convinced I was going to be on the streets within days before things turned around. Since then, I have never felt comfortable, knowing how quickly things were moving the wrong direction last time.
Good luck in this venture/adventure. Thank you for your kind (and helpful) comments on my posts. I hope the world is as kind to you.
@Rw0059 - one of the greatest comments I've read anywhere!
Hoky smokes Bullwinkle! Editor's Pick?! How the f*** did that happen? More than a few of my posts here were were far better than this. But hey, I'm not complaining. Let's see, I want to make sure I get evverybody. I have to use the town library to get on the internet so I have a 26 minute window before my time on this 'puter expires.

First, thank you to the editors for noticing me and giving me the visibility for others to notice my stuff. Pretty amazing, that.

Thank you for your PM and your comment, Mission. I knew that not everyone on OS was affluent and blissfully unaware, that I would reach others who understand. My purpose is to open the eyes of others.
Thank you, Lunchlady 2. Like I said in the preamble, this will not be unending hand-wringing, so reading this may not be as hard as you think. There is a lot of beauty down here, too. Just remember that people are always people, no matter what strata in society they occupy, so there is always something of value that can be gleaned. And don't worry about not doing enough. For many, giving time to listen and a warm smile mean a very great deal .
Thank you Linnnn. Ignorance will always be with us, unfortunatley, but I hope for the lightbulbs too. I think ignorance is a deliberate choice of those who are screening their fear of losing their own situation, and are "circling the wagons", so to speak. And who knows about the Editor's Pick. I hope you're right.
Thank you, Harry's Ghost. Methinks there is wisdom in what you speak. I will try not to discount the value of cybersupport. Hell, look what just happened here!
Leepin Larry: Scanner looks like me.
OOps, time's up...
Thank you, Deborah Young. I shudder to think that this may be the new normal. I hope not. But the thing of it is, a true tidal wave of social misery would have the power to alter society itself. Whether for good or ill, no one can predict, but there are promising signs. Please check out the documentary on PBS, 'Fixing the Future'.
Thank you Cathy. Stereotyping is lazy, critical thinking is work.
Thank you, Raymond Roske, for your hard work on behalf of a troubled society. And thank you for pointing out that despite what it may look like, there are indeed many like you. I will be highlighting, in a future post, a very gratifying experience I had getting a free eye exam and glasses from a group of volunteers. Wonderful, wonderful people. Long may you run.
Thank you, Rwoo5g. It is my belief that until you've suffered, really suffered, you are but half a person, but the thing of it is, not all who suffer are transformed for the better for it. Some become hopelessly embittered. It sounds like you, fortunatley, are in the former camp. And though I try to make allowances for the snobby, uppity, privileged pieces of shit you speak of, it is very hard, LOL.
Thanks again Mission. You are right, of course. In a community as large as this one, there must be very many. I, too, have to be careful of stereotyping.
Thanks, The Ranger2. Actually, the deep freeze of N.D. appeals to me. I LOVE the winter (and a damn good thing, too!). But I would miss the mountains and the nearness to the sea. But I promise I will give it a look-see.
Thank you, old new lefty. You are more perceptive than you realize, I think. I suffer a great deal from depression and anxiety and God-know-what, and I don't really trust my own judgement anymore. It has affected my writing as well. This piece took me a week and a half to massage and sculpt it to where I wanted it. In the past it would have taken me seven or eight hours, tops.
Thank you, Antionette Errante (what a beautiful name! I want to use it for one of my characters!). Your thoughts are appreciated. But please understand that the thing that is of prime importance to me is what I, in my writing, can give to you and to others. There is no greater calling than to serve, and that is what I vow to do.
Hi Surazeus: What an amazing journey you've had! If you made this into a book I would love to read it!
Thank you, Lezlie. Although the jury is still out on my resourcefullness, one thing is clear: No one, not anyone, can do it alone, none of us, even when times are good. And I can tell you that, after several years of isolating, I even miss the assholes ;-).
And I can only pray that I can be of help to others. To that end, I want to find someone to help me translate this stuff into Spanish, because there are so many in trouble who only speak Spanish.
Thank you, Sparking. I'm kind of leaning towards "absurdiludicrousity" myself. And yes, humor, as one wise person once said, is the hand of God on the shoulder of a troubled world.
Okay, time's up on this 'puter.
Thank you, Lizw9. I’m sorry that this piece was painful to read. Rest assured that human beings in even the most terrible circumstances still laugh. In fact, they must. And don’t worry if you can’t afford to help those in need. If you can manage to volunteer an hour of your time every week, let’s say, in a soup kitchen, a food pantry, anything in your community, those in need will truly appreciate it, and it will transform you.

Cyril the Gnome: Our government is the one we elected, and represents us. So it is we who have a lot to answer for. Keep in mind that we are all just as guilty if, by silence and inaction, we allow evil to prosper. The line that constantly floats through my mind like a mantra is from Pogo: “We have seen the enemy, and they is us.”

Thank you, Leslie Basden, for the compliment on my writing. I will try hard not to disappoint. And be careful of that staph infection. Those things can get quite nasty, as you know.

Thank you, Writer to the Stars. Your prayers, and your recognition of my writing (this from a fellow writer I so respect and admire), means more to me than you know. And I’m not as good as you think. I contributed to my circumstance in no small degree. I plan to address that, too.

Thank you for your kind thoughts, Patrick Hahn. I rent, so the foreclosure mess doesn’t affect me, although my heart goes out to those souls, as well.

Thank you, Algis Kemezys. I hope my work doesn’t disappoint.

Thank you, Maryway. I’d like to second that sentiment and hope that some kind of amazing miracle happens. Astonishing things do have a way of perturbing the course of human events sometimes, so you never know.

Thank you, Ume Blossom. Please know that the security of the entire human race is just as tenuous. The slightest gravitational tug on a distant asteroid could smack it into our planet even as we’re distracted by bickering with one another.

Well put, Scanner. And the fact that you’ve been there gives your words added weight. Thanks.

Caitlin Kelly: Boy, this made me stand up and take notice! Your comments have the air of one in the business, and who knows what they are talking about, so your comments about my writing are very precious to me as validation. They also got my mind working from a marketing standpoint. I will pursue this, thanks.

Lyn / Elijah Rising: Like Caitlin’s comments, this also got my attention, for the same reasons. Thank you for validating my writing, and I will definitely pursue this, also.

Thank you, l’Heure Bleue. I try to make allowances for these people you speak of, noting that a lot of what passes for anger is really masked fear, but I have to admit it’s hard sometimes maintaining the kind of magnanimity. By the way, I love your nom de plume!

Thank you From The Midwest. I’m glad that you have at least a measure of security.

Thank you, Patrick Frank. It sounds like your story parallels mine in more than a few aspects. I would be glad to dialog with you as well.

Thank you, Duane Gundrum. I’m glad that things turned around for you, but I’m sorry that it has introduced such insecurity in your life. Perhaps that is the natural order of things, that circumstances conspire to lull us into a false sense of security, when, perhaps, there is no such thing as true security.

Thank you, Damon E. Walters. And you’re welcome. I wait, with great anticipation, the next installment of “The Complex”!
Hi,I'm going to add this as a afavorite!:-)