I Told Them I was Homeless

I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my mental health. I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my alcoholism. I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss my drug problem, asking me which of various drugs was my “drug of choice.” I told them I was homeless and they began to discuss how much of a loser I was, how lazy I am, and how I should “get off my ass.” I told them I was homeless and they told me where the facility was, where the institution was, which program to join, what kind of treatment to get, where the shelter was, where the board and care was, where the halfway house was, and where all the other criminals were. I told them I didn’t become homeless for any of those reasons. But by that time I realized they weren’t listening.

Andy Pope
August 9, 2016
Homeless Villa, USA

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15 thoughts on “I Told Them I was Homeless

  1. Thanks, Ana.

    Being as you identify as a “chatty Introvert” like myself, have you ever felt a slight discomfort when someone assumes you are an Extrovert? Maybe not, but I have.

    I think we all tend automatically to judge people based on our preconception of a social faction to which we think they belong. We also tend to judge that social faction by the most conspicuous of its members. For example, people who are “cop-haters” judge cops according to police brutality. But not all police officers are brutal — most, in fact, are not.

    If someone identifies as a “Christian,” some people will immediately shy away, due to any one of a number of preconceptions, not the least of which is that the Christian will “proselytize” or “try to convert me to Christianity.” Most Christians do not behave that way, but one is being judged by a perception as to the norm.

    If you get a chance to read any of Erving Goffman’s work on “social stigma,” you may find it enlightening. Any time a person judges an individual based on a perception of a social faction to whcih the individual presumably belongs, it is stigmatic. We all do it. I do it myself. But I try to arrest it, because it completely impedes communication between myself and people who may be different than I.

    Probably the worst instance of this, in my own experience, is when somebody shouted: “Take a shower!” approximately fifteen minutes after I’d gotten out of the shower. Given that, in those days, in order to take a shower I had to wait for three or four hours in a line with a whole bunch of other homeless people, it was not a pleasant instance of stigma.

    Thanks for letting me air my views.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is brilliant! As a blind man I often find myself in a similar situation with “Helpers.” Most people don’t know how to help. It’s not their fault but they shouldn’t be trying to help. The first real helper in my life was my Mobility trainer who worked for the state of Alabama. One of the many brilliant things she taught me; “It’s impossible to help anyone with a one-size-fits-all solution. It is not possible to help people if you judge them. Helping is an unconditional gift.”

    Because of my wonderful helper, Lois, I am able to do anything anyone else can do except make visual assessments. To this day, well-meaning sighted friends try to help me by trying to force me to do things their way. Here is an example; When all I need is a ride to my store.. and they say, .”Shopping would be easier for you if you went to my store in my neighborhood.” It takes me a year of hard work to “learn” a new store and all I need is a ride to “my” store. People mean well but it’s not possible to help me if they think my years of Mobility training and experience was all wrong because it isn’t the way they do things. I am fortunate in that I am able to let a cab driver help me.

    When well-meaning people who don’t know how to help fail, it is incumbent upon them, to find someone who knows how to actually help you… I apologize for being so windy. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly! You see it as I do, and this is refreshing. Undoubtedly, this is because, as one who is sight-impaired, you have been stigmatized in much the same way that I and others were stigmatized on the streets of Berkeley. The example of someone not taking at face-value the fact that all you needed was a ride to the store, and that you of course would know why you weren’t about to move to the new neighborhood, etc., is golden.

      It seems to me that in the crowded urban areas, there is a lot more of a tendency for people to apply a “one size fits all” approach to the idea of helping others. When I was still in the San Francisco Bay Area, I found that I was constantly being “put into a box.” It frustrated me quite a bit, but it also brought out in my a legitimate yearning to be treated as the unique individual whom I am — the way I try to treat others.

      When I moved to this rather unique small college town situated in a largely rural area, I was able to experience the best of two worlds: (1) the cultural climate of a University planted in a region that considers itself a “closet music industry” with a strong Arts emphasis (the small town of 26,000 actually bills itself as the “Home of the Arts”), and (2) a largely rural atmosphere where it is not so crowded, and about 1/4 as many people are crammed into what is roughly the same geographical area as Berkeley.

      The result of this is that people, having more personal space, are far less internally hassled and thus are much more likely to take time to view each other as the unique individuals whom we all are at heart, rather than as members of a larger social faction that has the unfortunate effect of diverting attention away from one’s true identity.

      So it has been invigorating to finally be given the opportunity to flourish in a way that is akin to my own unique constitution, and not according to that which I am presumed to be according to the stigmatic preconceptions and prejudices of the unobservant.

      But in the more densely populated urban area, it seemed that even when people endeavored to exercise compassion toward me, often it was with a misunderstanding of what form of “compassion” would actually be of assistance to me. Eventually, I concluded that neither compassion nor judgment was what was really needed — but merely respect.

      We all need to respect each other enough to listen to each other’s viewpoints, before we either exercise “compassion” or, worse yet, merely judge. In that light, the words of Lois are precious: “It’s impossible to help anyone with a one-size-fits-all solution. It is not possible to help people if you judge them. Helping is an unconditional gift.”

      I repeated these words so that I myself might internalize them, as have you. May we always keep such words ever close to our hearts.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, A.P.! I agree 100%. Our schools have not taught Civics in decades and I think this is much of our social problem. I rarely meet anyone who knows why I use a white cane. Most people do not understand disabilities at all much less homelessness and social injustice unless they have a family member or close friend affected. In a better political climate it would be possible for government to fund advocacy groups that actually understand Community vs personal needs. that one time Commissioners were appointed to City council’s to serve this purpose. I’ve heard that cities like Denver are trying to restore dignity two people trying to improve their situation and lives. It’s a small step But it’s a start! keep up the good work on your end, my friend!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. 1 Corinthians 11:31…If we would only judge ourselves first… I’m accepted in the Beloved by Jesus Christ Ephesians 1:6… I have no need for approval from the world or earth dwellers… Because I believe in His Word I am strong even though I am weak..2 Corinthians 12:9…be blessed brother~

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great writing Andy, loved the style…just so you know, and it makes the content all the more powerful. I live in a rural area and generally find what you say about people having more ‘room’ is true, in that they seem less driven to quickly ‘box’ someone into a stereotype. And yes, respect is what counts above all else…


    • Thanks, Lynne. I’m glad you like the style, and your comment is very affirming. I often wonder why I didn’t just remain in the rural area earlier in life when so many people were pushing me to head to the Big City in order to “make it.” I’ve always been happier in small country towns. And yes — respect is indeed what counts above all else. I try to emphasize this, again and again, in my work. Thanks for being such an intent reader, and so supportive! God bless —


  5. Well written and it hits home on so many levels. People really do assume all of that. That’s why when I got a job I didn’t tell them I was homeless, I told them I lived with a friend. Stuff like that. I tell part of my story in a few of my blog posts. I was homeless, but now I live with a real friend. I remember when someone who could tell I was homeless at the time would look at me and judge me for having my kid with me. Real sad, they were often angry at me. Thank you for your story there, it really hits home and it hits hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It actually angers *me* that they would assume the kid should be in a foster home or with any other relative at all (no matter how abusive) rather than with the mother who loves her. People don’t just stigmatize homeless people – they stigmatize the entire Homeless Experience. I write about this all the time. It’s worse in the big cities.

    When I got my apartment, I didn’t tell the landlord I had ever been homeless, because I knew it would decrease my chances. I made sure not to use the words ‘shelter,” “housing,” “services,” or (of course) “homeless” while being interviewed. Those are buzz words, they’re dead giveaways in many cases.

    Three weeks later I interviewed for a job, and after a series of interviews, was hired. I never made mention of having been homeless at any of the interviews. I admitted it to some people at work later, people whom I had befriended, and whom by that time I could trust.

    So – I’m just sayin’ — I’m sure you’re doing the right thing.


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