What Should You Know Before Becoming Homeless?

Somebody posted this question on the site called Quora over the weekend.   I figured I might be able to answer it.  I was homeless for a long, long time.   

You should know that people will not treat you as a full human being with needs, rights, and sensibilities akin to those of the rest of the human race. You will be continually dehumanized in ways that will confuse you, anger you, and seriously affect your self-esteem and your sense of dignity. By and large, you will either be faced with severe judgment by those who assume they are innately superior to you, or with a pathetic show of feigned empathy that will come across more like condescension than true compassion. You will often be lectured by those who have never been in your shoes and have no idea what your life is actually like. These people also will never listen to you, because they assume that you have nothing to say to them that is meaningful.

no humanityYou will be kicked out of your beauty sleep by cops, security guards, property owners, business owners, and worst of all, other homeless people. You might as well divest yourself of all remnant of worldly possessions — cell phones and laptops included — because they are all going to be stolen anyway. At food services and “feeds” you will be herded around like cattle, and orders will be barked at you as though you were a criminal in a jailhouse. Your 1st and 4th Amendment rights will routinely be violated by rookie cops who wake you up in the middle of the night and immediately search your backpack for drugs. During these violations, the cops will also run your “criminal record,” since it is also assumed that you are a criminal.

They will be surprised to find out that you are not a criminal, since obviously anyone who loses their house in a foreclosure or their rental in a California Owner Move In Eviction must be a criminal. After they do find out you are not a criminal, they will callously tell you to “move on” and sleep somewhere else. When you ask them, “where else can I sleep?” they will of course provide no answer, since obviously there isn’t one. Severe sleep deprivation will eventually set in, and it is likely you will become a bit delusional in your thinking. Your confusion will constantly disguise what your true issues are. Tired of harsh judgment, tired of false sympathy, you will rack your brains out trying to figure out what is wrong with the way people approach you, and what is lacking in their attitude toward you.

Finally, you will realize that what is lacking is respect. They will not respect you; they will not treat you as an equal; they will ask you inane questions that do not pertain to your situation at all, and then will not bother to listen to your answers. You will get tired of hearing people ask you about the weather, because the weather will be the least of your worries. You will ultimately conclude that the worst thing about being homeless has nothing to do with hygiene, sleeplessness, malnutrition, weather conditions, difficulty sustaining basic needs, difficulty focusing on anything at all other than your day to day survival, or any of the other things that make homelessness miserable for most people.

The worst thing about being homeless, you will undoubtedly conclude, is the way that you are treated. Good luck.

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The End of an Era

It has now been 92 hours since I made it impossible for me to log on to Facebook. How did I do this? It was simple.

I opened Notepad.  Then, I created a random password consisting of about thirty-five random characters in a row that I produced by closing my eyes and doing a big piano glissando up and down the computer keyboard.   I copied it, put it in the “change password” field on Facebook, and promptly deleted it from Notepad.  Then I logged off.

Since Facebook requires one to post their old password prior to creating a new one, and since I now have no idea what my old password is, I will simply never log on to Facebook again.

Why did I do this?   Let’s look at the hard facts.

(1) I just punched in facebook.com on my browser to see how many notifications I had received in the past 92 hours.  Interestingly, the number is 184.  That’s twice 92 – and I kid you not.  This means I was receiving one notification every half an hour.

Now, let’s say I would spend fifteen minutes addressing each notification.  (That, by the way, is a very conservative estimate, knowing me.)  15 times 184 amounts to 2,760.  2,760 minutes amounts to 46 hours.  In the 92 hour period of time, that means I would have spent half my time on Facebook, dealing with the notifications alone.  Can I afford to spend half my time on Facebook?   No, I cannot.

(2) I am a person who has been diagnosed with severe adult attention hyperactive deficit disorder, otherwise known as ADHD.  What this means, as far as Facebook is concerned, is that whatever stimulus is the strongest and most immediate will be the one that grabs my attention. 

One morning, for example, I logged onto Facebook in order to grab a video from my daughter’s video files to send to a friend of mine.  Before I could find the video, a friend of mine who was feeling depressed logged on, and I spent two hours in an effort to console him.  Point is, his depression struck me as being of more immediate importance than the elusive video my daughter had made, which was buried somewhere deep within her video files, and therefore less immediate.  Once my friend was comforted, no sooner did I begin once again to look for the video, when another friend of mine showed up,  wanting to discuss a subject about which I am passionate.  Her passion striking me as being of more immediate importance than my daughter’s video, I quite passionately discussed the important subject with her for another two hours. Then I had to go to work.  In the meantime, I forgot all about the video, which was the only reason I had logged onto Facebook in the first place.  Thus are the effects of Adult ADHD.

(3) As one who is Sicilian by genetic predisposition, I have a very difficult time letting go of the past.  It therefore stands to reason that if I want this situation to improve, I ought not to be hanging around too many people whom I knew in the past, and instead throw more of my focus on developing positive friendships in the present, that will lead me to a more positive future.   Moreover, reconciling with certain figures from the distant past has more than once proved to be disastrous.

And here’s where the story gets good:

(4) At one point in my life, I made a casual comment on my Facebook that was misinterpreted by a well-meaning Facebook friend.  All of a sudden, three cops came pounding on my door.  They handcuffed me, ransacked my hotel room for narcotics and firearms, (of which I had neither!) and hauled me off to an insane asylum.

I was released the next morning, but highly inconvenienced by the ordeal.  My blood pressure shot up sky high, and I had to sit on a gurney in an emergency room for about six and a half hours before it was low enough for me to be legally hauled away to the nearest local loony bin, twenty-five miles South of my hotel room.

There, I managed to convince the baffled psych techs that I was neither suicidal nor homicidal.  I was released in my T-shirt in freezing cold December weather, and I wandered around for three days until the debit card refund for my hotel room cleared to my account.  (Obviously, I lost the hotel room, where I had paid for a two week stay, because when the 9-1-1 team showed up to haul me off to the psychiatric pavilion, all of the tenants came out of their doors to see what all the ruckus was about; and due to the police involvement, the hotel manager did not want to rent to me any longer.  I also left most of my clothing in the room, along with some books.  The motel room owners claimed no responsibility for items life in the building.)

As for the Facebook friend who made the dubious 9-1-1 call?   Long story short, I basically never heard from him again, except for a total of exactly two fairly unpleasant interactions in the following four years.  Must not have been much of a friend.  But he sure seemed like a friend for a while there, because he was the only one out of my some 300 odd Facebook friends who was concerned enough about my well-being to even consider making such a call.  And this leads to my 5th reason:

(5) These hundreds of people on your Facebook “friends” list are by and large not your friends.  You think they are your friends, because you befriended them when you were both in your teens or early twenties, and it was wonderful to reconnect with them.  Perhaps they are friends of friends of yours, or maybe even friends of people who are not your friends.   You know how to find out who your friends are on Facebook?  It’s easy, which leads to my sixth reason:

(6) I gave my phone number and email address to all of my Facebook friends some time prior to my abrupt departure.   Outside of the handful of people whom I already knew to be my true friends, you know how many of them actually called me?   Exactly three.  Thank you, Paul, Mari, and Holly.  Now I know who my friends are.  :)

(7) When I found myself arguing politics pointlessly with a total stranger in New York City who would not only never change his mind, but was probably drunk off his butt and had no idea what I was even talking about, enough was enough.

What all of this points to is:

(8) I have had five Facebooks in the past ten years.  Every one of them started out fine, then in some way imploded.  Every time I started a new one, I mistakenly thought I had overcome my dysfunctional obsessive-compulsive addictive relationship with Facebook.  I was wrong.

What did Albert Einstein have to say about the matter?

einstein insanity


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Gratitude List 652

1. Went back to bed for four extra hours of sleep after first getting up at 4:30. This took away the raw feeling in my throat, as though I’d been about to come down with something. Also much improved my mood, and I don’t have to convince myself that I’m sufficiently rested.

2. Realized after #1 above that I don’t really *need* to always get up *quite* so early.

3. Thankful that the current freedom of schedule permits extra sleep – because in my case, at this stage, Sleep is a major healer.

4. Awoke to interesting email replies from Guy M. and Lynne Fisher, two very bright and vibrant people.

5. Embracing my Extrovert. Getting ready for a more public life.

6. Despite #5, I rejoice in that I neither need nor desire to leave the fort today, except to go running. Have actually been enjoying holding on to cash — (rather than enjoying spending it.)

7. Was alerted to a non-invitation-only Webinar this Monday at 1 pm, free and participatory, for the purpose of ending classism. It promises a positive approach, and is hosted by an expert on classism and an expert on sociocracy. (Contact me for info, if interested.)

8. During the extra four hours sleep, I had a continuous rush of symbolic dreams, all along the same theme, and all informative, and pertinent. It behooves me to be obedient in this matter.

9. Can’t believe what a better frame of mind I’m in after the much greater amount of sleep. It’s as though a part of my brain is functioning again that had earlier been disabled.

10. I gained a lot from a brief phone conversation with Howard before the Taize service yesterday, and also from a brief chat with Paul D. Also enjoyed a lengthy phone conversation with Holly. It’s nice to have supportive friends at this time. Thanks, guys! God is Love.

My Secret Place

I promised Terry Messman, the editor of Street Spirit, I would post three homeless-related pieces on this blog before Friday, just in case he sees fit to publish one or more of them.   The first is my post An Incredibly Empty Place.   This is the second: something I came up in Berkeley during the summer of 2014.  I hope you like it.

My Secret Place

I used to feel really hassled when people would suggest various living situations for me.  I usually cringed, as though such environments were completely out of the question — but I didn’t have the guts to explain why.  Lately, however, there has been a turn for the better.  When I simply state my truth, I find that more often than not, it is accepted.  You cannot believe how good it feels to turn to these people and say: “I prefer sleeping outdoors.” 

Less and less do I hear them reply: “You’re crazy!”  Now maybe this is because I am speaking my truth to people who already know me somewhat — enough to know I’m not exactly bat crazy mad.  Naturally, if somebody suspects that there’s still something rationally ticking between my ears, despite the past ten years of near total sleep deprivation, they’re more likely to respect my position.   Still, the feeling of finally being able to stand up to somebody who insists I ought to be shooting for a slot in someplace like a long-term psychiatric facility is, in a word, liberating.

When I try to think of living situations that have worked for me better than my current one, the only thing I can think of is when I have had my own lockable space with plenty of ventilation and sufficient electrical power.  Even then, if enough of the “wrong people” find out where I live, I will default to sleeping outdoors. Moreover, in any other situation, such as living with roommates, sharing a house or an apartment — or worse yet, living in a homeless shelter, board-and-care, halfway house, or anywhere else that has the ring of “institution” about it — I will eventually default to Homelessness again.  Note the use of the word “default.”   Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable sleeping alone outdoors, despite the alleged risks, than sleeping indoors and having to deal with there being other people too close to my personal living space.

I recently lasted six days in a “sober living environment,” sharing an attic with three other guys.  One of the guys was a crack head who kept the other three of us awake all night, babbling incessantly about nothing.  One of the other two men was constantly threatening the crack head to bodily harm.   The third man snored at unbelievably high volume.  Add to this the factor that my “overhead” in the attic was literally about two feet shorter than I am, six days was about all I could take.  I’ll settle for an empty church stairwell any day, thank you.

Shortly after that, I survived four days at the Men’s Shelter.  Just didn’t care for the conversation topics, didn’t like the assumption that I must have just gotten out of State Prison or at least be interested in collaborating on some criminal heist of some sort. Not that I’ve never broken a law – I do so every day.  But that doesn’t mean that I identify with the criminal mind-set — and I’ll tell you why.

Smoking marijuana ought not to be a crime. But unfortunately, it can lead one to the company of those who commit other crimes if one is not careful. Further reason why marijuana should be legalized, immediately and totally decriminalized, and why personal drug-related issues should be treated as mental health or medical issues, not as criminal issues. Somebody must be making a lot of money filling up our jails with decent people who got popped for some piddly little pot deal. Disgusting, if you ask me.

So – knock on wood — but in my current living space, I sleep well just about every night, nobody ever hassles me, nobody approaches me, nobody wakes me up in the middle of the night to ask for a cigarette lighter — basically nobody knows I’m there. No one knows where I sleep – therefore my privacy is assured. If even one person finds out – word will get around, and I’m screwed.

Screwed — until I find another secret place. Which soon I will.  I always do.  And isn’t that a good thing?   Look at what the Psalmist says: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  Psalm 91:1.  Doesn’t that say it all, right there?  Where would you rather “dwell?”  In the secret place of the Most High, resting in the shadow of the Almighty?  Or in a four foot high attic with a crack head?

Granted, it’s pretty weird that this is what a person will do in order to achieve privacy. But it is exactly what I have done.  And – it is okay that I have done so. It ‘s my choice.  All I need to do is cast aside the social stigma, and make the most of it. Nothing’s perfect in this world anyway.  We all have our different sensibilities.  The best we can do is to honor the choices of ourselves and others, and to try to get along.

Besides, getting a lot of fresh air is good for you. They say that fresh air contains “negative ions,” which are oxygen atoms charged with an extra electron.   They clear the air of dust and pollen, and significantly decrease airborne viruses and bacteria.   Barring other factors, people who sleep outdoors are less likely to have respiratory issues, colds and flus, and even asthma.  Seriously!   The more you can soak in the negative ions, and the less you have to soak in the negative people, the healthier and happier you will be.

Andy Pope
Berkeley, California
June 6, 2014


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Red Squigglified

My awareness of my failings is so huge right now, it prevents anything positive I might have to offer from being — what would the word be? “Offerable?” Shucks – I knew it would get a red squiggly.

18rbgc“Presentable” comes close. My gifts, my strengths, my good points — are simply not presentable. They’re not presentable, so long as I remain unpresentable. (Another red squiggly – somebody please cue me in on where to uncheck that annoying default, so I can make up any word I want!)

Guess “uncheck” is another one. Now come on — there have got to be more qualified candidates for a red squiggly – than that.

Basically, this morning, I feel that this techno-culture is going to place a red squiggly line below anything meaningful I have to offer. Now if that’s not a social statement, I don’t know what is.

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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 are. 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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Social Statement

Because I have been recently lamenting a tendency for some readers not to recognize that my posts are generally “social statements” rather than “requests for advice” (if you can possibly grasp that there could even be a relationship between the two), I am entitling this post “Social Statement,”  just in case there’s any doubt about where I’m coming from.  Granted, it’s a lousy title, but let’s begin.

I was blessed last night to spend the night at my pastor’s house on his farm, where I learned that he is also a farmer, and not only a pastor.  It was  great to be out in the beautiful country, away from the city, and away from Friendship Square, if only for a single night.  It was funny, too.

It was funny — because when he invited me to stay the night, my first thought was: “In all the years when I was homeless, when I lived on the streets, how many times did anyone ask me over to stay the night?”


When I was homeless, and I asked somebody if I could stay the night at their house, what was their answer?


Herein lies the gist of a social statement.  It may not be headed in the exact direction you are suspecting.  My fellow homeless people and I naturally became more and more discouraged the more these statistics accumulated.  But we also naturally asked ourselves, “why” did close friends and family members categorically refuse to let us stay the night at their houses?  Even for one night?   In my case, even when I offered money to let them stay over one night and take a shower  –  or even just take the shower itself – they said “No.”  Why?

Eventually, we all concluded what I am about to describe.  They all knew that we were homeless.  They also knew that we had a number of other problems, but that none of those problems had ever made us homeless.  They had let us stay over when we were total slobs.  They had let me stay over when we were addicted to drugs.  Often, they themselves were addicted to drugs. They had let us stay over, whenever we were passing through, as long as we had not yet lost a place to live.   So why didn’t they let us stay over when we needed a place to stay?

The answer is simple.  All the problems that they had known about had never made us homeless.  Now we were homeless, and they did not know why.  Therefore we must have some problem that they did not know about, and that problem must have made us homeless.  Obviously, they thought, we had somehow screwed up our living situations in some way — otherwise, we wouldn’t have become homeless.  Since that had to be the case, would we not similarly screw up their living situations as well?  Sure we would.  

They were not concerned about our problems of which they were aware — they were concerned about our problems of which they were unaware.  Everyone has a little fear of the unknown, don’t they?  That fear prevented each and every one of them from ever letting us stay at their houses when we needed to.

You can’t imagine how difficult it was for me to call up a very close family member ten days after I had become homeless in 2004, and ask him if I could stay for a while in his spare room, and hear the word “No.”  When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t care to expand.”  Whenever I asked him over the years if he could elaborate, he said: “No.”

Why?  Because he himself did not know the reason.  He was not afraid of what he knew – he was afraid of what he didn’t know.  What he didn’t know was why I had wrecked up my living situation, and he didn’t want to take the risk of my wrecking up his as well.

The simple truth was that in the urban area where I had become homeless, the demand for living situations far exceeds the supply.  When I lost my last rental — for whatever reason — I could not readily get another one — for whatever reason.  I then fell down into the hole called Homelessness — a whole so deep I tried for twelve years to climb my way out of it.

0519d869c2f17b567099948384b9099bf8a86d-wmIf you can imagine the hurt and the pain I felt from hearing my own brother refuse to let me stay in the spare room at his house ten days after I had become homeless, try multiplying that level of pain by fifteen.  One by one, my closest friends and family members told me that I could not stay with them, nor even take a shower at their homes – not even in exchange for money.  So the discouragement that was strong enough, became fifteen times stronger.

Whatever enabled me to become encouraged again?  Encouraged as I still remain today, despite depression, despite mania, despite a medical condition, despite the loss of a job?

The amazing commonality that I shared with my homeless brothers and sisters on the streets of Berkeley, California, almost all of whom were enduring the same indignity as myself, affirmed our common dignity.  Our conversations, over a five year period, eventually lifted my spirit out of that hole, even though there did my body remain.

I’ve since been in touch with a Berkeley social worker.  I asked him how my best friend Lauren was doing, if she was still on the streets, and if her health was holding up.  I broke into tears when I learned that somebody had finally helped her with the initial deposit and last month’s rent, and she was now able to live on her disability in her own apartment somewhere in Southern California.  I have also heard similar stories, all across the board, of homeless people in my tribe pulling out of that gigantic hole, because our spirits had finally become encouraged by the hugeness of our common dignity, so much so that our bodies were soon to follow.

In Lauren’s case, it was her own brother who finally stepped up to the plate.  In my case, it was a retired music teacher who knew what I was made of, and fronted me a one-way to Idaho and enough money for the deposit on an apartment.  But the dramatic lift in spirits is common in all cases.  I went from being homeless on the streets of Berkeley, assuming I was to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets, to having a job and an apartment in Moscow, Idaho, faster than the twinkle of an eye.

If that’s not an inspiration, I don’t know what it is.  But remember  – it is not just my inspiration; it is the inspiration of hundreds, maybe thousands, of some of the most inspired people on the face of this Earth.  That inspiration can make a difference.  Please,  let us make that difference — before it is too late.

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