Homeless in Mayfield: Part Two

This is more-or-less a sequel to the first post in this series, as our hero begins to discover that Mayfield isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Again, please bear in mind that this writing was penned some years ago, when I was still in the frustrating throes of abject homelessness.  As such, it does not reflect my current head-space, so please take my ascerbic tone with a large grain of salt.

Just got swept off my Spot by yet another local city officer, this time a grisly old K-9 cop.  Ironically, this was the first night I had found a decent covering, a thick white quilt. It was at a church where clothing was also deposited. So I got a clean change of clothes, too.

(Of course, curled up in white during the black of night wasn’t the brightest thing a boy could do.  But a cover’s a cover.  Too bad I blew my own.)

Cop seemed uncomfortable. I think he was hoping for a dirt bag. I came across like a decent guy who was down on his luck. Still — he said I had one more night, and then:

Image result for bum control clipart“Move on!”

(Always gets to me when they say that.  As if anywhere else I move to, the same damn thing’s not going to happen again.  And as if it solves anybody’s problem just to keep us sleep-deprived and on our toes all the time.   Oh well — the Leave it to Beaver Fantasy was fun while it lasted.   Guess it’s just yer basic Bum Control here, as everywhere.)

So, any of you 378 so-called “friends” of mine on this here Facebook wanna have me over and argue politics on the real?  I mean — can you bask in the presence of a tortured Artist? Money isn’t coming till the 26th, but until then I’ll freely donate my wit, charm, good looks, talent, charisma, and vision for the hope of humanity in a future age of widespread human liberation.  How ’bout it, peeps?   Anybody down for a crash course in Homeless Enlightenment?

Down to brass tacks: on the 28th I get my SS of $960/mo. and if you want to do this on a trial basis, I’ll pay you $460/month. 1-3 months okay – I want to get my bearings anyway. I don’t smoke,. drink, or use drugs. (Done my fair share.) No pets. Tend to  be absent-minded, but I like my space. Composer. No deadlines to meet. I use software and headphones. No loud music.  I’ll be quiet as a mouse.   Anything else you need to know, just ask.  My only critical requirement is that I will not live in the City of Berkeley.   I repeat: NOT!!

(BTW I will not live in Berkeley because my music is too important for it to be targeted by thugs needing devices to barter for crack cocaine. Four were stolen in a year’s span, two violently, not to mention the punk who poured lighter fluid all over my backpack, an burned down all my possessions before my eyes.  No resentments toward anyone, and I love all of the Kids, but I won’t live forever, and my music notation software is my key to success.)

So let me know. I’m serious. I’ll be spamming my own timeline with every piece I’ve ever written, just waiting for the bowels of somebody’s compassion to come bursting open.  Oh, and by the way, I clean bathrooms too.  The moment your guilt makes you erupt like a volcano, you can count on Andy to sweep the shit off your floor.  

© 2014 by Andy Pope

Also, I’ve so far kept my New Year’s Resolution to post specific things according to a specific theme at specific times on specific days.  In keeping with that concept, I’ll do my best to have a piano piece posted tomorrow.  Don’t expect me to sing, however, as I’m still a bit under the weather.   See ya soon.   

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The Homeless Buzzwords

There were a number of words used predominantly by those who lived indoors that had a precarious ring in the ears of those of us who lived outside.   These words often had a way of revealing our homelessness in a situation where it would have been wiser to conceal it — for example, when one was seeking a place of residence among numerous applicants.   

homeless still humanEven if the situation were such that there was no reason why our homelessness couldn’t  remain  “out in the open” (so to speak), these words still had a way of making us feel that we were in some way distinctly set apart from the rest of the human race.  At times, the words suggested that possibly we were not even truly human.  After all, the humans who lived inside never used these words in reference to them. 

So let me list four of them.  Conveniently, the first two are what I will call the two “s-words.”  The last two will be the two “h-words.”  And I assure you — we who have been forced to live outdoors for prolonged periods of time could easily  come up with numerous similar “buzzwords,” possibly one for every letter of the alphabet.  But these four will suffice — for now.

1. SHELTER

Once on Facebook, a friend of mine announced on his timeline that “Andy was looking for shelter.”  Now, of all the friends on his timeline, how many of them would have known that I was homeless?  Probably only him, his wife maybe, and his kids.   Does a person who isn’t homeless ever look for “shelter?”  No, they don’t.  They look for a place to live.

I asked him to remove the post.  Although he was trying to help, he didn’t realize that the revelation of homelessness in this fashion would work against me in trying to secure residence.  I knew from experience that if there were ten applicants on a rental application, and one of them put down that he had been homeless, there would soon be only nine applicants on that application.

2. SERVICES

This one wasn’t nearly so bad as the other “s-word.”  But it still pointed to certain stigmata associated with poverty and disability culture that could conceivably work against us in many circumstances.  A person trying to find residence, for example, is generally reluctant to say that he or she has had to have access to “services.”  A prospective landlord would much rather hear about “gainful employment” than “services.”

Even in the context where no discrimination would be involved, there was still the inner sting of feeling that we somehow weren’t employable, able, or competent.  Nobody likes to think of themselves as incompetent.  We all want to think that we are at least capable of earning our own way in life, even if circumstances — personal, medical, or financial – are temporarily preventing us from doing so.

As I wrote in an earlier post, in all the years when I flew a sign on a Berkeley city sidewalk, only once did a person walk by and shout: “Get a job!”

It was just about the most refreshing thing I’d ever heard.   It was very common for passersby to point me to where all the services were — as if I didn’t know already — and the overall effect, after a number of years, was to drill deeper and deeper down into the depths of my psyche the disconcerting notion that I was somehow “less than” all the more worthy sorts of people — those who were capable of holding down jobs.

And I’m pretty sure that I speak, if not for all of the middle-aged homeless men and women in my position at the time, then certainly for a vast majority of them.

3. HOUSING

The first of the two “h-words” is akin to that of the two “s-words.”  Who needs to be “housed?”  A person who doesn’t already have a house, of course.   So when a social worker would refer to finding us “housing,” it only served to remind us of the essential difference between us and that other kind of human being, the one who was so privileged to be living indoors, who could conceivably delight in having moved to another place — a place of their choice, and more to their liking.

We could take no such delight.  The homeless person, even when told to move (which we very often were told to do), doesn’t really get to move to a new place.  Wherever we “moved” to, we were still homeless.  If a homeless person did find a place to live, it was because we had been “housed.”  It almost felt like we were animals being assigned to cages.  Compare that feeling to that of a person who had lived in a rental and who then succeeds in buying a house.   Possibly he moves out into the suburbs, or even into a gated community.  He gets to do what he wants to do, and take his pick of places of residence until he finds the one he likes.  That’s the sort of person who actually gets to move, and gets to move up in the world. 

Homeless people only need to be housed – and quickly.  It was a huge obsession of many of the indoor-dwellers in our midsts, especially of the ones who were trying to help us.  Something had to be done with us — hopefully as soon as possible  — and our own personal say-so in the matter was of limited importance in their minds.

And that says nothing of the kind of indoor dweller who didn’t even care if we were ever “housed.”  They only wanted us out of their neighborhood – and fast.  

4. HOMELESS  

Now for the big one.

I have probably used the word “homeless” ten times as much in the past two years indoors than for the past twelve years outdoors.  Even now, I prefer to use words like “outside” or “outdoors,” rather than “homeless,” whenever possible.  Partly this is because I feel called upon to emphasize that the main difference between those who are homeless and those who are not is that the homeless person lives outdoors — exposed and vulnerable to all kinds of external influences, human or inhuman, foul or fair.  Whoever is not homeless lives inside and is as such protected from the vast array of such external elements.

But the word “homeless” for some reason carries a number of unrelated connotations that obscure the real issues of those who live outdoors.   For this reason, many homeless people do everything they can to conceal their homelessness from those who live indoors.  The word “homeless” carries so much stigma, it drives the average homeless person into the realm of invisibility.

These kinds of homeless people, though far from the most conspicuous, are undoubtedly in the vast majority.  When I was homeless, any amount of money I was able to secure at in excess of my usual $17/day quota was considered to be license for me to take a bus or a BART train to someplace far away from places where I typically slept and attempted to earn my keep.  I did this so that I would not have to deal with the annoying barrage of repeated questions and irrelevant information that was sent my way as soon as someone figured out that I was “homeless,” or heard that word used in the context of my person.

Typical connotations on the word “homeless” include”drug addict,” “alcoholic,” “nut case,” “loser,” “lazy bum,” and a whole plethora of stigmatic labels that serve amazingly well to obscure the more essential information about the homeless condition.  As I said, these labels are unrelated to the real issues of those who live outdoors.  Plenty of people who live indoors could easily have any one of these labels attributed to them, and the homeless person may in fact have none of them attributable to his or her identity.  Even if these attributes are part of the homeless person’s experience, it serves no purpose to dwell upon them, other than to create a diversion from dealing with their true top-priority issue; that is, to find a place to live.  A dignified place to live.  A place to call their own, just as an indoor person buying a house can call their house their own. 

So to avoid having to cut through the quagmire of all this unrelated labeling, I had to start by avoiding the label of “homeless” in the first place.  For it would be from that label that all the other distracting labels would spring.  If instead I somehow managed to be seen only as a fellow human being, in as many situations as possible, and not as a “homeless” person, then my chances of attaining a place to call my own were greatly enhanced.  And in the end of my homeless sojourn, that was exactly how I found a place I could finally call my own — by leaving all trace of “homeless” out of my persona, and finding a landlord who had no reason to see me as anyone other than a fellow human being.

Perhaps you saw the episode of Northern Exposure in which the character Maurice approached a disadvantaged man on the street and asked: “Are you homeless?”

The man replied: “I prefer the term hobo.”

And before I had gained more savvy in the realm of outdoor living, I once asked a man if he were “homeless.”  He replied: “Homeless is just a word.”

Not to mention, when somebody asked me recently, after I’d been living inside for almost two years, “Are you homeless?” — my reply was published in the post that bears that name.  

So when I finally succeeded in achieving the dignified dwelling place I had long sought, how many times do you think I used any of those four words, the two s-words and the two h-words?   Of course, the answer is zero.  I avoided all four of these words completely.  I hope that by now, you understand why.  

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Daylight

This will undoubtedly be a more difficult post for me to write than the two more wild posts that have preceded it.   What has been happening is that I have been coming to terms with how severely my personal issues of the past six months have completely interfered with the discipline I need to move forward with my larger creative projects.

When I first moved into the Friendship Apartments on July 27th of last year, it seemed an incredible godsend.   This was especially the case when compared with my previous “place of residence.”  I had been on the streets for three years consistently in Berkeley prior to that, and for twelve years I had been homeless off-and-on in Berkeley and other towns.  That a trustworthy landlord even appeared who would trust me with a one-year lease on an apartment was remarkable.  So I cannot claim that Friendship Square has not been a blessing of tremendous magnitude.

However, something began to change within me, maybe not exactly on March 4th, when I reached the “pinnacle” described in the previous entry, but in a gradual way following that date.  Whereas before, my studio apartment had been a place of refuge and solitude, it gradually became on open door to all the social activities I eventually found among those who also took up residence in the Friendship Apartments.  I’m not sure how to describe what happened to me, other than to say that my loneliness eventually superseded my aloneness.  

The blessing of aloneness had been in solitude, seclusion, and sanctuary.  I found creative asylum in aloneness, and I proceeded with the Berkeley Music and the Babylon Script with a disciplined fury, only taking Sundays off from my writing.  Slowly, however, the blessing of solitude was transformed into a curse of loneliness.  I began to interact with whoever happened to be nearby, often another lonely person like myself.  I honestly think I did not even realize that I was lonely.  I doubt that many of the other men in my building were in touch with their loneliness either.  It isn’t easy, after all, for a man to admit that he has such feelings.

Before I knew it, I had befriended every man, and most of the women, in the Friendship Apartments.  It seemed they were called the “Friendship Apartments” for a reason.  Much reveling took place.  I would sometimes wake up in the morning wondering what I had done with myself.   (At this point, I am certain I need say no more.)

My pastor at my church had become concerned, along with those few members of the community whom I had truly befriended, including Young Paul down at the Bagel Shop.   We were all decidedly looking for a new and better place for me to stay, even as I was clinging to the model of Friendship Square as the answer to years of prayers I prayed on the streets, praying only that God would grant me “a window, a lock on the door, and a power outlet.”  After being homeless for so long, I was convinced that this was all I would need to be happy.

I got on a list for subsidized Senior housing.  Then, just yesterday, something came up.  It’s a two bedroom apartment, actually, for only $318/mo.  It’s in a good area, near Paradise Path where I run, and near the Safeway at the East Side Mall.  It’s off the beaten trail of the student partying at the Main Street pubs, as well as the more insidious, invisible “tweaker” scene that lurks menacingly all around the current block.   It isn’t at all a certainty yet, but I feel a real hope about this option.  Also, if it falls through, Young Paul has offered to let me take over the lease on his one-bedroom apartment (also in an excellent location) as soon as he and a roommate move into their two-bedroom.   So it seems fail-safe.

If any of you are the praying types, please pray about this.  I believe that, while it may not exactly “solve” my problems, it will put me in an environment much more conducive to their being solved.   And in any case, I awoke this morning feeling that some unweildy burden had been lifted from me overnight.  I am no longer so “wild,” nor have I been contemplating the unfeasible.   It is entirely possible that, the next time you hear from me, I will be standing on higher, more fertile, ground.

“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
–Romans 13:12

Your Moment is Now

The “s-words” and “h-words” alluded to in the first sentence of the post below are not cuss words.  They stand for “shelter,” “services,” “homeless,” and “housing,”   At the time when I wrote this post, I had begun to practice the elimination of these buzz words from my vocabulary.  It was becoming increasingly important for me to live indoors again, and the use of any one of those “buzz words” would work against me when seeking an affordable rental.   A person who has not been homeless doesn’t tell his prospective landlord he is in need of “shelter.”  He merely says he’s looking for “a place to live.”   

“Your Moment is Now” was written two weeks before I moved into my present-day apartment in Northern Idaho, a little over one year ago.  It describes how I was kicked out of a homeless shelter for having caught a flu, and thereafter found that there was no hospital that would keep me overnight, and no friend or family member who would take me in — as illustrated in an earlier post.  Please be advised that I was running a 103 degree temperature at the time when I scribbled down these words.  I say that in the hope you will forgive me if my writing style wasn’t quite up to par. 

I’ll be brief without using either of the s-words or h-words.

About five days ago, I was kicked out of the “dormitory” for having contracted a contagious disease there. It’s not a big deal – it’s viral bronchitis. It is only contagious during the first 2-3 days.

Unfortunately, this has left me to deal with the situation in an outdoor environment. I’ve been twice to the doctor who says that I need to rest in bed for ten days and drink a lot of fluids.  Obviously, I do not have a bed in which to rest.

fluI petitioned for an overnight stay at the hospital but was denied it on the obvious basis that overnight stays in hospitals are not generally granted to people for conditions that can be taken care of at home. Obviously, I do not have a home at this time.

I believe that if I can stay inside in a bed for 72 hours, leaving only to hydrate and use the bathroom, I will probably recover. I am not recovering, unfortunately, in the outdoor realm of living. Frankly, I have only had a flu like this twice in the past fifteen years. The first time a friend of mine fronted me $700 so I could get two weeks in a hotel room. I paid her back according to terms, but she is not in that position right now. I also am declining to ask for money, which I feel would be crass.  To request actual short-term lodgings, on the other hand, seems to me to be only logical, and appropriate to the cause at hand.

My petition goes out to those who live in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, and to the hearts of the Greater Humanity at Large. If somebody can provide so much as a floor with a rug for me to crash on for three days only, I will provide the Greater Humanity at Large with a lot more than said Humanity has evidently expected of me.

If not, I’ll subsist as usual, and perchance even survive. But know that when I say that I have watched numerous people in my position die needless deaths overnight, my statement is not hyperbolic.

People of compassion: now is your chance. Let me in. Let one of us in.  There are thousands upon thousands of Americans forced to sleep outdoors tonight.  Some will die tonight if no one lets them in.  Please, people of compassion — Let Us In.

Andy Pope
July 13, 2016
San Francisco, CA

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