The Leprosy of Homelessness

“The Leprosy of Homelessness” was first posted to my online diary on July 14, 2016.  I believe nine “followers” had access to these words.

As you may recall, on July 17, 2016, I fell to my knees, sick with a flu and suffering outside, and screamed to the heavens that Somebody would put a stop to all this homelessness. On July 27, 2016, I stepped off the bus in the city where I was born, a city where I’d not been for 63 years. On September 1, 2016, I signed a one-year-lease on my first apartment here.

I unearthed “The Leprosy of Homelessness” two days ago, while searching for the address of a guy named Barry who had me stay with him throughout December of 2010. I wanted to find it so I can pay off a $40 debt that’s been nagging at me.

I’m incredibly sick with this awful flu, more so than even at the start. I’m outside in the elements. I’m sick with a flu. Don’t people get it? They ask me things like: “If you’re homeless, how come you have a laptop?” As though a homeless person couldn’t own a laptop.

They ask me where I’m sending these messages from if I’m homeless? I tell them I’m sitting outside the Burlingame Public Library shivering with my laptop plugged into their outdoor power outlet.  But they don’t believe me.

People always act like I’m trying to pull of some kind of scam — just because I’m homeless, or else the scam is that I am homeless — if like say, they know me from the Internet, and they think I’m “too intelligent to be homeless.”  They further suspect me of being a liar, a scammer, a hustler, a criminal, and a crook.  But why? Can people not believe that my situation is as critical as it is??

I petitioned everyone on my Facebook friends list to let me in for a few days, so I can recover. But of course nobody will let me in. I got kicked of the homeless shelter where I caught it, because they figured I would spread it. The hospital wouldn’t let me in. They said if they let me in, they’d have to let “all of us” in. I got kicked off the night bus because it was obvious I was sick–and I get it.  I might contaminate somebody.  But I’m only trying to stay alive — why am I getting all this suspicion and distrust? Or worse yet, indifference?

It reminds me of that scene in New York where something like fifty-one people watched a guy get stabbed to death and nobody wanted to get involved. It was a big news story when I was a kid. Or even in Berkeley a couple years ago, where that guy beat this guy to death with a tire iron for asking him for a cigarette. People stood by and watched, and I remember somebody shouted: “Somebody with a gun, shoot that guy!” But whoever might have had a gun (who knows?) nobody brought it out, nobody shot the guy. Everybody just watched as he beat the guy to death before the police came.

You guys have been following me here.  You’re all in my corner.  We’re all cool.  But say if I were to post it on my Facebook (which I just might), people are  probably only going to say: “Aw, come on, Andy! Get a grip!” But that’s because they don’t know. They can’t imagine. I put all these words together, in an effort to get people to picture what it’s like down here, but usually the only response is: “I can’t imagine what it must be like.”

I become infuriated. I want to say: “Did you even read a single word I wrote? Are my writing skills and my communication skills so God-awfully bad that after I go out of my way to describe what it’s like, all you can say is “I can’t imagine what it must be like?” It’s damned insulting! If someone’s not interested in what it’s like down here, why don’t they just say so? Or else, don’t follow me, for God’s sake.

When a number of my acquaintances died on the streets of Berkeley a while back, I would write to my brother and my remaining friends in the Mainstream trying to demonstrate how somebody would not have died had they been inside, or had they even had a dollar or two to ride all night on one of those buses. First off, people have a hard time figuring out why we have trouble coming up with a dollar or two, or why a couple bucks is going to make such a huge difference in a homeless person’s life. But I watched Darlene die overnight. She didn’t need to die! Two bucks would have saved Darlene’s life.

I told my friends about it. They offered condolences, and their condolences were accepted. But this was not about receiving condolences. I hardly knew her. I hardly knew Tom, or Jimmy, or any of them. I only know that they were outside trying to deal with medical conditions that are best dealt with inside, and that they died. I was trying to illustrate how in one guy’s case, three bucks would have spared his life. But people don’t want to hear that. They only want to shrug it off with a superficial condolence: “I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your friend.” Unless the person was of crucial closeness to them, they don’t really care how they died. And me? I care – because I’m one of them. I care – because I’m trying to get a point across.

We are a nation that has become plagued with the Leprosy of Homelessness. And it is entirely unnecessary! Services, Shelters – they will not solve the problem. They do not address the core heart of the issue. They only keep a person bound in the shame and stigma of a conspicuously visible condition that nobody wants to look at. Why? Is it because they know inwardly how soon it could happen to them? They, after all, are human too – like us. Or are we human? Do we need to be dehumanized in order for our separation from the rest of humanity to be complete? If that’s what it is going to take to ease the conscience of the Mainstream, I guarantee you, that’s what’s going to happen.

It happened in Nazi Germany. Don’t think it can’t happen here.

So I used one of the H-words and both of the S-words.  “Homeless, Shelter & Services” have come out of my mouth, but not “Housing.”  I shoot myself in the foot every time I use these “buzz words.”  A “real human being” doesn’t seek “shelter” — he seeks a “place to live” for God’s sake!  But what does it matter now? In the light of possible death, what does my recently accelerated search for dignified indoor dwelling mean now? Not much. God will provide me the dignified internal dwelling space that I need. And outside will be dogs, and adulterers, and idolaters, and every person who loves the lie more than the the truth – because their deeds are evil. — (And that’s Revelation 22:15 in case you suddenly thought I was a great poet.)  Do you want to be that kind of person? Do you want to be outside the gates of the City of God?

Probably not, if you really were to stop to think about it. I know I wouldn’t want to be excluded among everybody who loved and practiced falsehood. That’s why I’m so adamant about getting a truth across, a truth that in this society, as concerned as we are with liberty and justice for all, most of us have not really paused to consider. I know I didn’t, before I was thrust into first-time homelessness back in 2004.

So consider these words of truth. These are not the rantings of a political radical with an aggressive agenda. They are the best words I can think of to describe a reality that affects me and my homeless brothers and sisters every single day of our lives. How many times has it been been pouring rain in a thunderstorm, and a single dollar got me into McDonald’s for a senior cup of coffee, to get out of the rain? Lots of times. How do I get that dollar? Well, some people called “hustlers” don’t have too hard a time running up to every Tom, Dick, and Harry saying “Spare some change? Spare a dollar? Spare a dollar? Spare some change!” But can you imagine me doing something like that? I sure hope you can’t. I can’t. And I’ve been homeless for the better part of twelve years.

Homeless – for the better part of twelve years. How many times have I had the flu in those twelve years?Exactly twice. Like I said, God bless her, the first time my friend D. was able to take seven hundred bucks off of her credit card – I didn’t even ask for it, God bless her – and that got me a hotel room for a couple weeks. When I got my check at the top of the next month, I sent her the seven hundred dollars back. That was a totally positive, one-time huge favor that she did for somebody she cared about. She can’t do it right now. Why?

For one thing, she has to take care of her mom and her brother, and have them in her house, crowded though it might have been, because they were in some kind of straits, and I don’t want to go into the personal financial details of a friend of mine, but suffice it to say she helped them out at a time when they needed to be let indoors. And this, she did while six months pregnant with her first child.

I also know for a fact that George would let me in if he didn’t have his nephew and his sister over their right now, and his wife hadn’t have broken her leg, because that’s just the type of guy he is. Hell, D would probably buy me a house if she had the money. One time when I needed to eat, George and his wife went out of their way to meet me at a Burger King near a motel I had put money down on, and make sure I ate, and make sure I had some cash. I told D about this, and she immediately quoted the Proverb: “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

That’s for sure. I don’t want to talk about my brother– and you don’t want to ask about him. I love my brother and he loves me — and let’s leave it at that. We just don’t see things the same way. He’s helped me when he could help, and I have appreciated it. But that help stops at the border marked by his front door. Now let me reiterate: I have been homeless throughout most of the last twelve years. In that period of time, exactly five people have let me so much as walk through their front doors, at a time while I was homeless. George was one of them. This guy Barry was another.  And a stranger wants had me over for spaghetti and a shower.  And Howard let me house-sit.  And then there was Art.

And Barry – I don’t even know this man very well. I remember he and his wife were extremely cordial and accommodating. I got a lot of music written. There was some issue about my “panic attacks” but it wasn’t so bad, if I recall. Later, however, Carol had to take care of her granddaughter – so my staying over there wasn’t an option. But when it was an option, what a wonderful period it was in my life! I got so much music written. Why? Because somebody let me in, at a time when I was not able to get myself “in” – by myself. It’s that simple.

But year after year goes by, day after day. The times I’ve even been let inside somebody’s car now amount to exactly twice. The people who have let me in their cars are Paul and Cary. It might have been Paul’s girlfriend’s car, but the point is WOW! Somebody actually trusted a homeless person to sit in the back seat of their car!! I felt LOVED. Loved! You can’t imagine what it feels like to step inside somebody’s house, and feel the sense of home – the sense of protection, the sense of warmth – the sense of LOVE!!

The feeling of stepping into a MacDonald’s in the rain, of getting that single dollar – believe me, I might not feel loved by the person who let me have a dollar, but I feel loved by God when that kind of thing happens. He will not chasten me forever. He will, in the end, be merciful. And God will always, always let me in. All I need do, is knock.

Knock – and He will open. Ask – and He will answer. Seek – and He will be found. And I will seek Him! And I will find Him — in the day when I seek Him with all of my heart.

I recently reconnected with my old friend Sara, a Christian musician. I was chatting with her last night, pondering if I should remove my previous post on the matter, wondering if it was too strident, if I ought to have been more mellow, if I ought to have been less dramatic, perhaps, and most importantly, if I risked laying a guilt trip on everybody.

She instantly said: “Leave it.”

I asked her: “Why?”

She said: “You spoke from your heart. You’ve told them – the hospital does not have beds reserved for illnesses that are readily dealt with in people’s homes. You don’t have a home. Your only recourse is for somebody to let you in – or else for you to get a motel room, which costs money you don’t have. So why aren’t they letting you in? Leave it! They should feel guilty.”

Be that as it may. If my brother were to call me up, and he had lost everything, and he was out on the streets, and he asked me to please let him stay over for a few days, there would be no guilt left for me, but only the joy of being able to say: “Steve, you’re my brother, I’ll get the coffee on, you get over here right now!

Why someone would prefer guilt to that simple surrender of love that lets their own family back in their house, is beyond me. But maybe someone has something to hide. That’s the condemnation, right? The guilt Jesus talks about in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. “And this is the condemnation: the people loved darkness more than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Evil? Am I the one who called you evil? If you’re evil, then I am evil as well. Compared to GOD, we’re ALL evil! So you don’t want me to see the messy kitchen. So maybe you watch porn and you don’t want anyone to know about it. Am I going to go about snitching you out in light of you having done something so huge as to have been the sixth person in twelve years to let me inside your front door??

Or is it me? Do I smell? That Mexican gal on the train sure didn’t seem to mind. Am I a space case? Will I rant and rave and talk your ear off? You can stick a rubber ball in my mouth for all I care. Will I space something out? Leave a towel on the bathroom floor? Leave the broiler oven on all night? Probably – but really – is the just punishment for being the Absent-Minded Professor — HOMELESSNESS???

Do I have anything to hide? I daresay I do not! I knock – and He is opening. I ask – and He is answering. I seek – and He is found. For I have sought Him, and I have found Him, in the day when I will have sought Him with my whole heart.

That day – is today.

Let me in. If you don’t, He will.

I have nothing to lose.

Andy Pope
Burlingame, CA
July 14, 2015

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7 Comments

  1. The leprosy of homelessness is a very good way of putting it. The notion of you being too intelligent to be homeless really highlights the idea that you can’t be homeless if you’re human, and you can’t be human if you’re homeless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A.P. says:

      That was well-said, Ashley.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a powerful and sobering read.
    I’m reminded of an article I read on Cracked a while ago about how easy it can be to find yourself homeless and the challenges of being homeless that few people think about https://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1246-7-things-no-one-tells-you-about-being-homeless.html?ext=.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A.P. says:

      Actually I had already run across that article and have been trying to get a hold of the author to see if I can reference them in my next podcast! Podcast may not be this coming Wednesday but it’s an interview with another guy who escaped many years of homelessness as did I. I’m centering it around these seven points. Interesting synchonicity!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. A.P. says:

      Actually wait wait woah! The article with the 7 points was by a different person and the 7 points are ever-so-slightly different. The thing is, these are points upon which virtually ALL people who have experienced long term homelessness in urban areas will agree. In fact, even the one or two homeless people in the small town I live in, out in the boonies, will agree. Here’s the article if you’re interested (it flushes a bit better than the one you sent): https://www.rd.com/article/used-to-be-homeless/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gotcha. The article you linked to is a great read.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A.P. says:

        It truly is. My daughter’s boyfriend Benny is going to Zoom with me tomorrow at four, and we’re going to share our experiences around each of the author’s points in preparation for a Wednesday podcast. Pretty exciting!

        Like

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