The Missing Homeless Person

A few days ago, this question was posed on the site Quora: “If a homeless person I see on a regular basis suddenly disappears (and no dead body is found), what would police do if I reported him missing?”  I could not speak on the behalf of law enforcement.  But since I was twice the subject of a Missing Persons Report, I did my best to speak on my own behalf.

Twice, during the 12 year period when I was homeless, a person concerned about my whereabouts filed a Missing Persons Report.

The first time, I received a mysterious message from “Joe” on my Facebook that read: “Welfare Check.” The person named Joe identified himself as a Marin County detective.

I did not understand what a “welfare check” was. I told him, quite naively, that I was not on General Assistance (i.e., “welfare”) and that I received no such check.

He explained that a young woman whom I had been working with had been concerned about my whereabouts after having received an alarming email stating I was alone in Golden Gate Park in inclement weather. (This is true, because I sent the email to her and others from a cafe that was near G.G.Park.)

Once I put the twos and twos together, I was able to tell him I was fine and staying temporarily in a motel, and that I was sorry I had caused anyone any consternation.

flying empty signThe second time was a bit different, and actually was more of an inconvenience than anything else. I had been in a halfway house, and I left before the two week term was up. I left because I couldn’t stand being around all the strangers, and I wanted to be alone, and sleep alone outside. (This was always my preference, during the years when I was homeless.)

Again, it came back to me — through Facebook, of all places — that an MPR had been filed and that police were looking for me.

Because I felt I had left the halfway house responsibly, informing the case workers there that I was leaving, I was incensed. I called them up and said:

“How on earth can anyone file a Missing Persons Report on a homeless person? Missing from WHERE????”

Everybody at the North Berkeley Senior Center who had surrounded me at the moment thought this was very amusing, but of course the social worker on the other end of the line failed to see the humor.

So – again this is only my experience. It does show that the police did care, and that part’s good. But it also shows part of the reason why I no longer use Facebook. I value my privacy. If you ever become homeless — if you haven’t been already — I suggest you value yours as well.

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On Disorganization

Disorganization has been my mortal enemy lately.   So much so, that I often feel that if it weren’t for disorganization, I’d probably be able to get my musical produced.   Although we all have a tendency to be set back by forces beyond our control, it seems to me that disorganization is something that I can control.  It therefore leads me naturally to wonder why it is that I have become so disorganized.  I used to be one of the most organized people on the planet.

I used to be so punctual that people practically set their clocks according to the time that I was going to show up.  Once, back in around 2003 or so, my client told me they had almost called the cops out of concern for me — only because I was ten minutes late.  It was unlikely that I would have shown up later than a minute before the prescribed time.

I used to run my morning ritual like clockwork.   There were about five or ten actions that I performed religiously every single morning, in the same order every morning, without pausing.  Nowadays, the occasion of getting out the door in the morning is almost nothing but one giant pause.

“Where’s my shoes?”   
“What happened to my headphones?”   
“I could have sworn I had one last coffee filter!”

So how exactly did I become so scattered?   The answer could be given in less than four words – but here are the first four that come to mind:

TWELVE YEARS OF HOMELESSNESS!

homelessoffice
“Homeless Office”

When I was homeless, I had no problem finding my shoes because I slept in them.  Why, you may ask, did I sleep in them?   For at least two reasons.   First, at any time of the day or night, anybody could come out of anywhere and interrupt my sleep, sometimes with knife in hand.  I needed to be able to get up and run as fast as I could, as far as I could, calm my nerves, and find another place to sleep.

Secondly, if I took off my shoes and set them at my side, there would be a strong chance they wouldn’t be there in the morning.  They just might be the right size for another homeless guy whose shoes had been stolen as well.  Even if they weren’t the right size, they would still go for at least five bucks at the pawn shop.   And five bucks when you’re homeless and out in a thunderstorm can save a homeless person’s life.  That person can get on a warm bus and sleep all night, rather than die of hypothermia in the elements.

Headphones?   Do you think I would dare own a pair of headphones under such conditions?  Well yes, I often so dared, and I would have to buy a new pair before I knew it.   Why bother?   A pair of headphones equals a twenty dollar bag of dope in that realm, and I might even risk bodily harm if I tried to defend myself.

(The absurdity of there being any role for coffee filters in such a realm is too absurd to warrant an explanation.)

But the bright side of all this is a fact that not many people would even guess, had they not themselves been homeless over an extended period of time.   For that same homeless person who stole your twenty-five dollar SONY headphones will later drop a twenty dollar bill in your cup without saying a word.

Barring the sociopathic and criminal element — which does indeed exist but is far from the norm —  the homeless person doesn’t steal because he is a thief by nature.  He steals out of desperation, and feels pretty bad about it.   Even a young man who stole an entire laptop from me felt so bad about it, he ingratiated me with various gifts for two years, until I finally told him we were even.

So it’s not too much of a surprise I’m having a bit of difficulty getting organized, considering the level of “organization” I was dealing with for the better part of twelve years.  I’ve only lived indoors again for about a year and a half now, and old habits — or the lack thereof — die hard.

And if you want to find out what homelessness is really like, find out from someone who has been there.  Not for a week, or a month, or a season.   From someone who has been homeless for nearly half of his adult life — and who amazed everyone he knew by pulling out of it.

Find out from Eden in Babylon.   Please support this timely project, and please be “punctual” — while there still is time.

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Closet of Shame

This one was written at around the same time as my Homeless Tinge.  I had been living indoors here in Idaho for about four months, successfully managing a job and an studio apartment for the first time in over twelve years.  But I remember being annoyed with the friend of mine who had helped me with the one-way.  He kept advising me to completely hide the fact that I had ever been homeless.  I understood that he was only trying to help, but it just didn’t sit well with my integrity.

I need to make the decision whether  to “come out” concerning my recently heavily hidden homeless experience, or whether to continue to hide it. I have not told one person in Moscow that I was homeless, except for the therapist whom I saw for exactly two visits, and then left once I realized he wasn’t listening to my issues, and was actively in the process of beginning to address issues I did not have. I left somewhat regretting that I’d mentioned the homelessness to this particular individual, not that I didn’t like him personally (because I did) but because after I decided to leave the counseling, it seemed that my release of the information was entirely unnecessary.

woman-closetSome time ago, an intuition told me to wait six months before “coming out.” I’ve only been here four and a half months. It just dawned on me, however, that I’ll have six months of “sobriety” at six o’clock tomorrow morning. Could the “intuition” have referred to that six months? Maybe so. But if so, it makes me feel rushed. I feel like a “closet homeless person.” One might say that I am no longer homeless. But that’s not exactly true. I’m still homeless in my heart, by a certain very profound definition of the word that often escapes public attention. I may not be homeless in my current behavioral patterns; i.e.,using a key to unlock a door to a place I can roughly call “home;” using a forever-open window to obtain fresh air rather than an outdoor dwelling spot to obtain the same, and so forth. But all that means is that I am not currently practicing my homelessness. So what is the sense in which I am still homeless?

I am still “homeless” because I do not relate my current place of residence to permanence. The only permanent residence to which I relate is the Kingdom of God. My home is in heaven; I am a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth; I knew I was a stranger to the earth long before I became a Christian or could even contemplate identifying as a pilgrim. But then, in another sense, I am not homeless at all, because I have an eternal home in Christ. That’s huge. Still, I am homeless in a worldly sense, impermanent in the big picture, but permanent as far as life in this world, on this earth, is concerned. Whether anyone around me is aware of it, I think, speak, and act like more like your typical homeless person than I do like a person who holds his home to be a specific dwelling place on the earth, in the world.

It may seem I’m mincing words. But there is an enormity here that needs to be taken into consideration. Whatever the strength or weakness of my explanation, my identification as “homeless” makes me feel as though I am in the “closet” and hiding something essential about my nature to the people around me. I am not merely hiding my history of past homeless experience. I am actually hiding who I am.

This is spiritually dangerous. For one thing, it will inevitably impair my personal and social relationships here in Moscow. People will sense that I am hiding something – only they don’t know what it is. So they begin to speculate among themselves, as people will do. This may already be happening. How many times have I been talking with Norman, Kathy, or Mary – the three people at my church with whom I have been making a concerted effort to make friends – and all of a sudden there is a huge pause in my speaking? It’s as though I’ve run up against a brick wall. I’m not a person who hides his feelings very easily. People tell me that I am “transparent” or even that I wear them on my shirtsleeve. So I sense that these people receive my feeling very clearly – and yet the words have mysteriously ceased to emerge from my mouth – sometimes even in mid-sentence. “What is he hiding?” I can hear them thinking.

We know what he is hiding. So the more pertinent question is: Why is he hiding?”

Originally, I concealed my homelessness for much the same reason I would have concealed my experience with chemical dependency pertaining to an unpopular substance. I didn’t want not to be considered for a lease on an apartment; I didn’t want not to be considered for a part-time church job. I also didn’t want to be somehow funneled into some pointless program, facility, agency, or institution – although the more I remain in Moscow, the more I realize that this is unlikely. Outside of the obvious issue of personal sovereignty; that is to say, nobody can force me into one of those programs or institutions, unless I were legally mandated into one of them by Court order; there are two other Moscow-related factors that make the suggestion unlikely. For one thing, I can’t help but notice that people in Moscow are disinclined to put other people into “boxes” – far less inclined than people in, say, Berkeley, or the San Francisco Bay Area in general. This may or may not be a “California” thing; but it definitely hasn’t happened in Idaho as I have thus far experienced Idaho through Moscow. If a person is “headed down,” people here are much more likely to attribute it to the economy than they are to personal factors, such as drug addiction, alcoholism, poor mental health, or laziness. Needless to say, this is refreshing.

For another thing, there simply aren’t any programs, agencies, or institutions in the area. The only facility I’ve noticed is the Police Department, which I suppose contains a city jail. But how likely is it, given what I just said, that somebody is going to criminalize me on the basis of this revelation, should I choose to “come out” and reveal my true identity? Not likely – especially considering that I am not “practicing” my homelessness at this time. So basically the only remaining reason why I wouldn’t come out of the closet – is stigma. I have experienced so much stigma that spoils the identity of the true homeless person, and therefore diminishes reception toward his truth, that I basically am reluctant even to deal with it. Much as it is difficult for me to hide anything about myself at all, it is still in a way easier to overlook this issue, rather than risk opening up a Pandora’s box that could lead practically anywhere.

Now, to the moment  — and to the reason why this has come up at this time.

A buddy of mine, a retired middle school music teacher, spotted me $600 in three separate installments in order for me to get established here. He paid my security deposit (though not my last month’s rent), paid for my one-way bus ticket, and shelled out an additional $200 during the first couple months of my stay here. He’s a person who gives unsolicited advice by nature (many people in the teaching profession have this quirk), and he gave me a lot of advice that I soaked in for two reasons: (1) it made logical sense, at least at the start; and (2) I was kissing his ass in case I could get more money out of him. Now (2) is entirely against my integrity, but it actually took me until very recently – as in the past two days – to realize that this is what I was doing. The way that I realized it was as follows.

Usually, when he would send me am email of unsolicited advice, I would do one of two things:

(1) I would recognize that the advice pertained pretty well to my situation, thank him for the advice, and proceed to follow it immediately (with or without checking first with the Lord on the matter, or with any other person from whom I stood no real chance of receiving further money).

(2) I would notice that it did not pertain to my situation, be mildly irked, and send out some polite, half-truthful response that kept me on the up-and-up with the Rich Man.

But the Poor Boy could only suppress his true nature so far, and he would finally wind up exploding – as he did on Thursday night. The explosion would contain my truth, as opposed to all the previous bullshit; but since it was an explosion, the explosion itself would immediately become the issue, rather than any truthful content that the explosion would contain. So why was my truth coming out in an explosion, rather than bit by bit along the path? Obviously, because I had been bullshitting him, whether I knew it or not.

Why was I bullshitting him? Partly out of guilt because I figure I owed him (even though he wrote off the debt.) But largely, I was bullshitting him in order to please him, to live by his standards, and not mine.  I did this in the hope that further money would be kicked my way, further down the road. This is what’s known as hypocrisy. So I refused to do it anymore. The easiest way to do so, though perhaps not the best way, is to have announced that while I have appreciated his help, he and I are two essentially different people; and I would not be engaging in the email exchange any further, nor do I wish him to be anything but relieved of all sense of obligation toward assisting me with my personal struggle. That does sound like integrity, though a deeper integrity would have been to persist in the email exchange anyway and just keep arguing with him as long as he was down for it, with or without the ulterior motive of desiring money to be kicked toward the Poor Boy from the Rich Man. (Note the ironic hierarchical twist in my phraseology. One is a Man if one has money and a Boy if he does not.)

I have respectfully bowed out of the email aspect of my longstanding friendship with this man.  I have insisted that he not help me financially in any way any further. This doesn’t mean I might not call him further down the road, or write a letter, or something along those lines. But this daily contact through email, defining an active friendship with a large degree of dysfunction, has been terminated. I’m fine with that. What’s interesting, however, is what has transpired in the two days since I’ve ceased to try to live by his standards, but rather by my own integrity and the timeless biblical foundation in which it is founded.

truthWhat happened is that less than two days later, I spontaneously wrote the first inspired piece pertaining to the homeless experience that I have written since coming to Moscow, with the half-exception of Scene One of the new version of Eden in Babylon. When I wrote “Homeless Tinge,” I thought: “My God! It’s all coming back to me!” As removed as I have been from my homeless identity, that identity was thrust to the forefront as soon as I realized I’d been kissing up to a person who has consistently disavowed any integrity in my embrace of said identity. As soon as I ceased trying to adopt the uninformed values of someone who has no identification with the homeless experience whatsoever, my own homeless identification was reawakened. Then, my friend Jamie wanted to post a couple paragraphs of that piece on her Facebook, “with or without attribution,” which catalyzed the present dialectic. For one thing, it confirmed for me that the writing was strong and that the message is needed. When my voice was subjugated under my wealthy friend’s domination of my personal sovereignty, I’d neglected the message entirely.

This explains my depression. It explains the emptiness I would often feel coming back from Choir rehearsal, feeling that something was definitely wrong, that my chi was clogged, that the life flow had been stunted, that I had been oppressed by arbitrary hierarchical domination based on classist values that I myself abhor. None of that stuff pertains anymore. Now that I have been granted this bill of divorcement, my true vision has once again surfaced. God bless the man; he fulfilled a purpose in God’s scheme, but that doesn’t mean that I owe him any kind of allegiance, to do his bidding thereafter.  I only him love, the same love I owe to all – great or small, rich or poor, close or far.  That I would feel obliged to “kiss up” to him is to my failing and my hurt.  But if I shed that false notion, than I am immediately washed with a balm of painless success.  The man did no wrong; I did wrong by him; I need do no more wrong, to him or another.  My sins are forgiven: I need only sin no more.

But the question remains as to how far I should come out. Do I come out slowly? Leak it out? Talk to Norman first? Or limit this divulgence to the three friends I’ve made at the church? And maybe to Paul and his wife, decent hard-working musicians whom I would be much inclined to trust? Or will that mean it will get around? Do I limit it to my writing only? And to unpublished writing? Basically, I don’t want Jamie to post my decent writing on a needed message without acknowledging its source – that would be extremely self-defeating for me as a Writer, being as anyone who’s read any of my writing at all will tell you that my writing on Homelessness is my strongest work.

I do not have the answer yet, except to express to Jamie that I don’t want the two paragraphs to be quoted without attribution. It’s either with attribution or not at all. But if there’s attribution, then how am I to be identified or contacted? My current public blog, though it deals implicitly with these issues, goes out of its way to conceal the homeless identity every bit as much as did the many compromising conversations that were used to maintain the dysfunctional status quo with my music teacher friend, and the conversations containing the awkward moments that I’ve had with those whom I have attempted to befriend. So if she puts my name there and people wonder “who is Andy Pope?” naturally as a Writer I would want there to be a link to my web site. But my web site suffers in the same manner as do the conversations in my budding friendships. I am telling the truth, but not the whole truth as pertains to the matter at hand. And it shows. And – it hurts.

What is the temptation? Am I tempted toward vainglory? Or, on the other hand, toward cowardice? If I come out, will I give God the glory? Ha – the point is moot. How can I not give him the glory? The risk involve is large enough, and the trial huge enough, that I will need to turn to Him. So turn to Him I will, and turn to Him I do, for in Him may I trust.

A Scripture has been running through my head all day. It says: “redeeming the time, for the days are evil.” Why is that coming up? What does it mean to “redeem the time?” Well, for one thing, it means not to waste time. Yeah – that’s what I’ve been doing – I’ve been wasting time – I could postpone this calling forever – but I mustn’t. So when do I come out? That’s the question – not how far. If I’m going to come out, I’m coming out all the way — none of this half-assed malarkey. But what does all the way mean? Shout it from the house tops? Stand up on top of the fountain at Friendship Square and say: “People of Moscow! I have an announcement to make!” (?) God forbid.

No that’s not where it is – but it’s somewhere. There’s something gnawing at me – hence I have sped the pace of this dialectic. What it is – is this.

When I have gotten depressed, and I’ve felt empty inside, as though spiritually dry, or even spiritually dead, I have almost invariably thought in my heart: “I need to be homeless again. I cannot be a member of the Mainstream of Modern American Life. It no longer works for me.” The wish to find my niche, my home so to speak, is valid; in fact, eternally so, for I am not a part of this world. This is something I’ve sensed internally, as I said, long prior to my deciding to identify as a Christian. But to seek to find my home in Homelessness; that is to say, in the practice of homelessness, is a misdirected application of this wish. My home is in heaven with Christ whether I live indoors or outdoors. So if I am experiencing separation from God in any sense by living indoors, it is not going to be solved by living outdoors. It is to be solved by getting my heart right with God.

In conclusion, my homelessness is not just a past experience, but an actual identity to be embraced.   Whether I live inside our outside, all I really need to do is validate that for myself, within myself, between me and my God. The rest will follow suit.

Given that conclusion, I already have repented. All that “repentance” really means is to change one’s mind. I have changed my mind. Have I changed my mind about living indoors? Not at all. Have I changed my mind about denying my homeless identity? Yes, I have. The only remaining question is when, where, how, and to whom is this information to be divulged. And the only answer I can come up with is that, since obviously it cannot be completely divulged all at once, I have to begin, bit by bit, step by step, to own my identity in some arena other than the Closet of Shame.

Andy Pope
Moscow, Idaho
6:10 p.m. – 2016-12-10

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