The Homeless Christmas Day

This piece was originally posted on my Facebook timeline on December 23rd, 2015.  It has been edited for coherence, and for the relative removal of bitterness and rancor, being as the overall conditions of homelessness were, at the time, affecting both my brain and my heart.  

It looks as though we’re closing in on Christmas again, folks. That’s bad news in my book, and (I daresay) in the corporal book of homeless people everywhere. The good news is that I haven’t flipped out yet. Last year at this time I thought I would “err on the side of caution” and do everybody the favor of at least deactivating my Facebook for the holidays, so that people wouldn’t have to endure too many posts like this on my timeline. Meanwhile, I would be free of that awful combination of outrage and jealousy that so often overtook me when I had to see all the “likes” on all the cute family pictures, often with lavish gifts being opened beneath their highly decorated Christmas trees.

Last year my departure was quick and easy: “It’s that time, folks! See ya after the Super Bowl!” Probably the shortest Facebook timeline post of mine in history. Somehow it didn’t go over too well.

The year before that, I was spending Christmas Day stuck out in the rain, with services closed for those of my ilk, not to mention the usual five-in-the-morning “indoor resources” being closed (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.) After all, social workers need to celebrate Christmas too, and baristas need a day off as well. Of course, government buildings were closed, and it wasn’t possible to hide out in the library all day.  So I wandered around aimlessly in the rain, eventually realizing that the only other people doing so were about twenty-five other angry homeless people. Our natural exchanges of commisseration began to depress me.

homeless christmas“Well, I do have a laptop, and friends on the Internet,” I mused, as I crouched underneath the awning of the Starbucks at Oxford & University, copped their Wi-Fi connection, and began to plead my case to a number of old friends who no doubt saw the intrusion upon their warm family gatherings as a bit rude.

Describing my situation, I implored a number of people for a PayPal grant of $60 or so, hoping to be able to get out of the rain and set up shop in a cozy motel room somewhere. I figured, “Geeze, it’s Christmas! You’d think somebody wouldn’t mind giving the poor homeless bloke a well-deserved Christmas present.”

Of course, it was short notice. Quite to my hurt, I mistakenly banked on the combined compassion of the chosen few. But alas, the constant bombardment of pictures of old friends on Facebook basking in decadent bursts of Christmas Day galore – stockings, ornaments, grandchildren, the whole works — did nothing for me other than to arouse the ol’ Green Eyed Monster who forever grumbles dormant within me — perched, poised, and ready to pounce.

Well — pounce the Monster did indeed! The results were none too pretty. One of my friends was so aghast at my approach (which no doubt must have been rather ghastly), that his response was quite a shock. Rather than consider helping me out in any way, he sent a joint email to me and the closest member of my family he could think of. In the email, he recommended that I be “institutionalized” — evidently as a viable solution to this chronic homelessness business that obviously wasn’t being dealt with effectively.

psych ward stockingUnbeknownst to him, that was my biggest fear. Not that I have any particular dread of the techno-torture of this Age. It’s just that they don’t let me plug in my laptop in those types of dives, because it can “conceivably be used as a weapon.” They do the same thing with my shoelaces, which makes jogging around the building a bit difficult. And of course they don’t let you out of the building so you can go on a run of decent length, if you happen to be (as I am) one of those. I remember once when I even alluded to the fact that I was training for a half-marathon, they wanted to put me on bipolar meds because I was exhibiting what they called “excessive goal orientation.”

In short, the instutitions, both short-term and long, are rather dreary places to be. Arguably, Christmas outside in the rain would be preferable.

As I read my friend’s well-meaning recommendations, all I could do was shake my head. “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” I mumbled, mulling over the text in amazement. Knowing I could never get my point across to my old friend through Internet typing alone, I implored him that I reply with an oral presentation to consist of approximately thirty minutes of persuasive speech.

It worked! Not only did I succeed in explaining the Facts of Homeless Life to the guy — but he actually poured accolades upon the technical and aesthetic details of my Spoken Word piece. Naturally, my attitude of disdain toward him was replaced with great approval. This fellow actually had an MFA in Voice and Speech, and here he was telling me that I was a good speaker? The same person whose opinion I had poo-pooed now expressed an opinion I found quite delightful. You see, I had enormous professional respect for this person, and I took his praise to heart. It was as though I had discovered a new hidden talent, hidden among all the other hidden ones — not that I’m about hiding any of my alleged strengths, but only that the society at large, in continuing to view me as a scum bag, essentially doesn’t see what I’ve got to offer even as I offer it. They see what they want to see.  It doesn’t matter how brightly the homeless person’s light may shine. Between that shining light and the eyes of the beholder there is a dark cloak that obscures the accuracy of their view.

And the name of the cloak is Stigma.

Ah, Stigma. Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? What are we to do with You? Should I make the same move as I made in 2014, in order to avoid yet another Facebook Christmas? It’s tempting, but something gives me pause. It’s already the 23rd, and like I said, I haven’t flipped out yet. So let’s push this puppy to the limits. Take ‘er to the max. Shoot for the moon! Let’s keep my Facebook active, and push the envelope just a wee bit further. Let’s all see for ourselves just what exactly happens on Christmas Day.

Come on, Christian America! What do ya think Christmas is all about? Why are we washing our hands like Pontius Pilate of the validity, the legitimacy, the dignity, and the humanity of an estimated 8% of our nation’s urban population? Even among those who are not homeless, statistics still reveal that one sixth of America struggles for hunger on a daily basis! Do you think Christmas will be any less of that struggle!?

Come on, people! Let us in! Stop looking at us as though we’re all a bunch of worthless druggies and boozers and losers and vandals and varmints and thieves! We take showers, we wash our clothing — it just takes us longer to do so because we have to wait in big lines at service centers to get into the shower, to access the washer, to get the toothpaste and toothbrush and razors and shampoo — while what do you do? You can do these things in a moment’s time, and you look at us patiently waiting at places like then Multi-Agency Service Center in Berkeley, California, and you frown and shake your heads and say: “Look at those lazy bums, sitting there doing nothing!”

Le us in for once! It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake!! Let me show you I still know how to play the piano and crack my jokes and get you to holler and laugh and do requests! You think any of my gifts have changed just because I happen to sleep outdoors and you happen to sleep inside? I can give you the same Christmas gifts you used to enjoy so much back when you were glad to have me over for a dinner on the holidays! And those are only my gifts. We all have our gifts to give you! Isn’t Christmas about giving? Then let us give you our gifts — on Christmas Day. Let us in.

Tears of love will fall from my eyes when I am finally able to tell you that I love you in a manner that no email nor Skype call nor timeline post could ever touch. And great will be your reward in heaven. For the King whose birthday you claim to commemorate will reply: “Whatsoever you did for the least of my brethren, you did also for Me.” 

Andy Pope
Berkeley California
December 23, 2015

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19 thoughts on “The Homeless Christmas Day

  1. I hope and pray this Christmas will be a vastly different and positive experience for you. I live in northern Alberta – a long way from California, but here, too, there are homeless people struggling not only with hunger and shelter and getting their needs met, but also with the extreme cold. Your post gave me pause to think about what I can do to add a bit of comfort to their harsh existence. I thank you for that and I wish you many, many blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Carol. I’ve been living indoors now since July 2016, mostly alone, and able to pay my rent on time each month. I also no longer live in California, but (if I read my map correctly), quite near to where you are in Alberta. So the last couple of Christmases have actually been pretty sweet, compared to these “ghosts of Christmases past.” I have a lot to be thankful for, every day.

      One thing that may be helpful is that a little bit goes a long, long way in a homeless person’s experience. Too many people, when I was homeless, felt that they could not help because they could not figure out a way to “solve my problem.” But the homeless person isn’t looking for anybody to solve their problem. They’re only looking for a little encouragement in a very cold world, and a little help to get through the night. Two dollars can save a homeless person’s life if they’re in danger of hypothermia, if that’s what it would take to get them on an all-night bus or into a MacDonald’s. In the big cities, they *will* kick you out of a MacDonald’s if you don’t have 60 cents for a senior cup.

      So – you may already be aware of these realities — but I speak them because it’s alarming how many people are not. I do appreciate your note of support – and thank you especially for the reblog. Best holiday wishes to you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah – I see this, and thank you. I guess you have to have been there, or else, just read the Book a lot and see what it *actually* says. I am thankful for the gift that was Homelessness. It taught me how to think for myself. Many blessings and peace.

      Like

  2. Excellent from the heart piece. Your piece speaks to me. Thank you for sharing! And thank you Carol for posting it. I’m also happy you are now able to sleep 😴 inside. I don’t like the holidays either, but for different complicated reasons. One of them is too much excess and gift giving. This year we have to cut way back and I dread telling our kids and grandkids (and we do modest gifting).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Rh. I’m glad this spoke to you. And I like the little emoji between the words “sleep” and “inside,” because sleep really has been peaceful since I managed to get myself into a dignified indoor living situation.

      Some other information that those who have not been homeless *might* not be aware of is that, when we slept outdoors, most of us *never* dreamed. This was because deep REM sleep was extremely hard to come by. There was such anxiety, and so many interruptions — not just the natural outdoor sounds of the night, but the sense of approaching thieves. Homeless people are easy marks for night prowlers. Often items were stolen from my backpack without their even needing to awaken me. More often, however, I awoke on their approach, glaring at them shouting “Yeah?” — And the thieves dispersed, in search of an easier mark.

      Now I sleep like a baby. I’ve had my fair share of nightmares — but at least they are dreams. And most of my dreams are sweet.

      Liked by 1 person

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