Homeless Shelters

Note: this post was first written here in an answer to a question posed on the Q&A site Quora, which I am acknowledging according to their terms of service.   The question, as posed, was “What are homeless shelters like?”  Of course, I could only answer according to my personal experience.  But I did my best.  

During the many years when I was homeless, I stayed in a number of different shelters, as well as in other group situations that were even less favorable and less appealing to me than the preferred choice to sleep in a secluded spot outdoors.

I did get a good feeling from one or two of the shelters, but most of them gave me the creeps. Even in the one where I felt most “at home,” it was still assumed that I was of a criminal mentality, and that I had a criminal record. I had a hard time believing that all of us who had fallen into homelessness were “criminals” – and of course I gravitated toward those who clearly were not.

I eventually realized that part of the reason why this mentality was so widespread was because the people who ran the homeless shelter were themselves ex-convicts or criminals in varying states of reformation, rehabilitation, or recovery. So from the top down, it was pretty much assumed that one was comfortable with the criminal element.

A great plus was my being able to get a free breakfast with unlimited coffee refills in the morning; in fact, Peet’s coffee was served, which I loved. At night, there would be dinners brought by organizations in the community who desired to help the homeless. Usually these were religious organizations having a strong bent in the area of converting the homeless to their particular brand of faith. That I already had my own religious preferences was usually dismissed as irrelevant, since it was assumed that if I had a true “relationship with God,” I would never have wound up homeless to begin with.

The preponderance of religious zealotry mixed in with a criminal mentality made it almost impossible for me to feel “safe” in the shelter. I slept on a fold-up cot that sank down very low in the middle, inducing backaches, and not conducive to a good night’s sleep. When the night manager shouted: “Lights Out!” at ten at night, all that this meant, literally, was that the lights were turned off. It did not mean that people kept their voices down or made an effort to stay quiet.

In close proximity to my cot was a large T.V. where a number of the men who had rented pornographic movies stayed up and watched porn flicks all night, reacting as men would do in private to the various suggestions of these movies, while I was trying liberty-safetyunsuccessfully to sleep.

I constantly feared for the theft of my laptop and cell phone. I kept my backpack attached by one of its straps to my body at all times, even while I slept (or tried to.) Although there were lockers in the shelter, one had to fill out a lengthy application in order to obtain one of the lockers, and there was a long waiting list to get one. I often declined to take a shower in the morning after I watched a young man’s Ibinez custom electric guitar be stolen during the five minutes he was allotted to shower. But at least they had showers, and it was also a good place to shave and brush my teeth, both of which activities were frowned upon in the library bathrooms, as well as in the bathrooms of local cafes and restaurants. It was nice having a bathroom right nearby during the night, and this was one advantage that staying in the shelter had to sleeping outdoors.

I also was able to do my laundry on Tuesdays and receive razor blades on Wednesdays. There were several other perks. In general, however, I felt “safer” sleeping outdoors in a secluded place known only to me. But I must put the word “safe” in quotes, because the concept of “safety” is meaningless on the streets. We did not think in terms of “safety;” and whenever anyone made references to our “safety” (or the lack of it) we were generally baffled. Homelessness was best regarded as a wild adventure, where one had to be ready for anything at any time, almost like being in a war zone. The word “safety” has very little relevance to that manner of life.  

I must also disclaim that in this brief exposé, I have tried to describe only the shelter I liked best. The last one, the one I liked least, was the one where I was kicked out for catching a flu, even though I had obviously caught the flu in the shelter itself. There followed an awful scenario in which I was denied a stay in a hospital because I was homeles and kicked off of the all-night bus (where several homeless people regularly slept) because of my having the flu. Having a bad flu and being forced to stay outdoors was the catalyst toward terminating my homeless “adventure” of twelve years. But I owe that termination to prayer and to my God. Homelessness is a hole so deep, one really has to have lived it in order to understand how next-to-impossible it can be to climb out of it. I consider myself therefore lucky and blessed. 

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Tuesday Tuneup 16

Q. Do you know who I am?

A. Sure do.  You’re a creation of mine who always questions everything.   

Q. Why have you summoned me?

A. Because I can.  I have the power to do so — the God-given right, and the authority.

Q. Are you my authority?

A. Yes, I am.

Question AuthorityQ. Are you proud of that position?

A. I am indeed.

Q. But why, specifically, have you summoned me today, sir?

A. For the usual reasons.  I summon you every Tuesday, when I need to do a little introspection.  You might say, a tune-up.  I’ve done it 16 consecutive Tuesdays in a row now.

Q. Are you proud of that accomplishment?

A. As a matter of fact, I am.

Q. Why?

A. Because it represents consistency.  And consistency represents stability.   

Q. Are you usually unstable?

A. Yes.  Or so I’m told, anyway.

Q. Who tells you this?

A. Stable people.

Q. Such as?

A. I decline to name names.  But I’m sure you know the type of person I mean.  The kind who can hold down a 9-5 job, stay in one town for a long time without wanting to vamoose, and so forth.

Q. Are  you unable to hold down a 9-5 job?

A. Not for very long.  

Q. Why not?

A. I’m not sure.  But I do know that the last time I held down a 9-5 was in the year 1990, and I didn’t last through the year.

Q. Why not?

A. Got fired.

Q. Why?

A. Got beat out in the competition.

Q. With whom?

A. With a more stable person, obviously.

Q. Are you sure this is the real reason for your not holding down a 9-5 job?

A. You paint me into a corner, you  do.

Q. How’s that?

A. You force me to seek out a deeper reason.

Q. Such as?

A. Such as maybe I just don’t want to hold down a 9-5.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I have no confidence that I won’t be fired.

Q. Why not?

A. Because every time I start out with confidence, I wind up getting fired anyway.  So I’ve developed a —

Q. Block?

A. Maybe.

Q. Disdain?

A. Closer.

Q. Frustration?

A. Closest yet.

Q. So why do they fire you?

A. Three things.

Q. Namely?

A. Number One, I’m extremely absent-minded.  I space too many things out, and it frustrates my employers and co-workers.

Q. Number Two?

A. I show up late.  I keep looking for things in my apartment that I’ve spaced out, things I need for the job, and can’t find them.

Q. Why don’t you just leave them at work?

A. My glasses?  My keys?  My wallet?  Come on.

Q. What’s the third reason?

A. Can’t handle stress.

Q. What happens when you’re under stress?

A. I implode.  I shut down.  I can’t function.

Q. Is that why you’re on disability?

A. Pretty much.

Q. So how do you spend your time on disability?

A. Doing things I can do.

Q. Such as?

A. Play the piano.  Sing.  Write music.  And write.  Oh – and run long distances.

Q. Why is it that you can do those things, but not the normal 9-5 office type things?

A. I think it has to do with the fact that they can all be done while I’m totally alone, with no other people around.

Q. Does being around people stress you out?

A. Somewhat.   Although I am in a relationship now, and I spend a lot of time with my flame.

Q. How’s that going?

A. Amazingly well.  We seem to compliment each other nicely.

Q. But don’t you get stressed out sometimes being around her?

A. Sometimes.  But we take the time to work through the stressors, and wind up the better for it.

Q. Then why can’t you do the same thing with your office mates on the 9-5?

A. Because they don’t give me the time.  Everything is done according to deadlines, and time pressure.  

Q. You don’t work well to deadlines?

A. Not at all.  I cease to function completely when under time pressure.

Q. But you work well without deadlines?

A. Look at all the stuff I’ve accomplished.  All over this website.  Were any of those things accomplished according to deadlines?

Q. I don’t know – were they?

A. Not at all.  They’re all labors of love.  And no deadline has been involved whatsoever.

Q. What about the Tuesday tuneups?

A. I space a lot of them out, too.  Some are composed over the weekend, or late Monday nights.  Some I don’t even get around to until Thursday.   But I’m trying.

Q. Why are you trying?

A. Because I’d like to show the world some consistency.  Some stability.   So I figured I’d set some mild deadlines for myself, and see if I could keep them.

Q. What other deadlines have you set?

A. I’m supposed to come up with a Scripture every Sunday, a Gratitude List every Monday, this tuneup every Tuesday, a speech every Wednesday, a substantial essay-like blog post every Thursday, and a piano video every Friday.

Q. Who says you’re supposed to?

A. I says.

Q. And if someone else says?

A. No can do.

Q. Problem with authority?

A. Hey!   What are you trying to insinuate?   

Q. Does it . . . seem like I am . . . trying to insinuate something?

A. You heard me!   You’re insinuating that I have a problem with authority, aren’t you?

Q. Am I?

A. Of course you are!

Q. But aren’t I . . . only . . . doing my job, sir?

A. Don’t put words in my mouth!   You actually have the audacity to insinuate that I, your sole Creator and Absolute Authority, have a problem with authority?   What authority?  Who’s my authority? 

Q. Well . . . isn’t your own Creator your authority?   I mean  . . . isn’t God your Creator and your Absolute Authority?

A. GOD??  And who, pray tell, would be God’s Creator?  And His own Absolute Authority?

Q. Why do you challenge me with such intellectual matters, sir?

A. Because it’s your job, damn it!   I summoned you to do your job!

Q. Are you going to fire me, sir?

A. I just might!  And if you don’t want to get fired, young man, I suggest you keep your big mouth SHUT!!

The Questioner is silent.

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Anything Helps – God Bless!