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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Dangers of Liberation (Part Seven)

This is the final post of a seven-part series.   Though it will make more sense if you read all six of the previous posts in the series, I won’t be so demanding as to insist upon it.  My hope is that it will stand on its own, enough to secure your interest.  I don’t differ from many other writers, in this regard.

My knees got hit pretty badly by the pavement on which I had slammed them down.  They would be swollen the next day.  But I did not care.   When I stood up from the prayer I had screamed, something was different.  There was an eerie calm about my spirit that suggested a newfound confidence.   I had never prayed a prayer like that before.

St. Paul wrote: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  — (Philippians 4:8-9)

Nobody is an atheist in a foxhole.  I prayed more prayers in the trenches of homelessness than I had prayed at any more respectably churchgoing phase in m life.  But I had never felt a sense of peace engulf me as it did when I stood up from that prayer.   For the first time in twelve years, I had cast aside the sting of stigma, of all the things that people supposed my homeless experience to entail, and prayed directly that I would be granted a home.

It wasn’t long after that I remembered an old associate of mine.   It crossed my mind that a certain music teacher I’d worked with in the past had offered to get me a one-way ticket to anywhere I thought I could start a new life.   I remember being somewhat perplexed when he added: “I’m not trying to get rid of you, by the way.”  (This obviously planted the thought in my head that he was in fact trying to get rid of me.)

Whatever the case, we met to discuss the matter.  He told me he was no longer teaching, but had received a large retirement.  So he reiterated his offer, suggesting he fly me to Belize.  That was a bit far away for me.   

So I told him I would start googling keywords designed to land me in a part of the United States where I thought I would flourish.   I began to google things like “college town,” “small town,” “affordable rent,” and “low crime rate.”  I also threw in demographics tailored to my tastes, for I tend to thrive in the colder temperatures.    It wasn’t too long before the city “Moscow, Idaho” began to surface.

“This is bizarre!” I told myself.   “I was born in Moscow Idaho — but I only lived here for the first year of my life.   I know nothing about this place, except for that my dad was teaching ROTC at some college, and that he was transferred to San Diego or Long Beach shortly after I was born.”

As the city of Moscow began to work its way further up toward the front page, I took my leap of faith. 

“Why is it that I have never even pondered this town?  Nor wished to return to it?   One think I’d have been curious.  But I wasn’t — until now.”  

On a hunch, I looked on Craigslist for a room.   I saw a studio room with a kitchenette in a converted residence hotel now called the “Friendship Apartments.”  To my astonishment, the room rented for only $275 a month.

I sent pictures to my friend.  “How much do you think this rents for?” I asked.

“Oh – I don’t know.  Maybe $900?”

“Try $275.”

“We’re on!” he shouted.

Shortly later, he was buying me a $200 one-way ticket at the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco.  Forty-eight hours later, on July 27, 2016, exactly ten days after I had prayed that unprecedented prayer, I was sleeping indoors in a place of my choosing.

I have been sleeping indoors, in places of my own choosing, ever since.  Twelve years of degrading, debilitating, demeaning, undignifying, dehumanizing homelessness was ended that simply.   It was as easy as that.

I had only asked for “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet.”  But God gave me much more than that.   God answered all the prayers I had asked in frustration why I had to continue to be surrounding by thieves and hookers and pimps and hustlers and drug dealers, and why was I not surrounded by Artists and Writers and Musicians and Actors and Directors and people more like myself.

I walked through the city gate of the town of my birth, the place where (according to my late sister) I had lived for only fifteen months.   This is the gate that I found:

heart of the arts

This is why I related earlier that all the prayers I prayed in total outrage and frustration were answered by the God Who Is Love.   If that Love can cut through hatred as thick and vicious as mine, I believe it can cut through all the hatred in the world.

Let’s hope.   There is always danger on this earth.   I have been in danger of many things since I’ve lived indoors — danger of a different nature than one finds when one lives outside.  But there is one place where there is no danger, and one home that is eternal.

“If you make my Word your home, you will indeed be my disciples.  You will learn the truth — and the truth will make you free.”   — Jesus Christ

THE END 

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Six)

If you’re new to my blog, “Dangers of Liberation” is a seven-part series that I began several Thursdays ago.  The previous posts are on consecutive Thursdays, with a one week break after Part Four.  

The extent to which my mother symbolized the Mainstream cannot be underestimated.  In fact, the only way I was ever able to achieve independence from the Mainstream was to achieve independence from my mother.   I did not do so until long after she died.

A mother’s love is not always unconditional.   My mother loved me to the extreme, under one condition: that I remain emotionally and psychologically dependent upon her.  She gave me everything a mother could possibly have given me, except for the one thing I eventually needed most — my independence.

As the first-born son of her four children, I was never able to come into my true identity as long as my mother was alive.  I was always her “little boy.”   Though she loved all her children immensely, she favored me among the four.  This favoring became more noticeable as she approached her death at the age of 89.  At family gatherings, she practically forgot that any of her other children were there.

After she died, my oldest sister and a close friend informed me that Mom had been “manipulating” me.  Throughout my life, she affected my decision-making in such a way that was designed to keep me out of trouble.  In so doing, she kept me locked into the box of the Mainstream.  I stayed out of trouble, but I lacked personal freedom.

It was almost like an indoctrination, the way my decisions were manipulated by her will.  My own will became a passive extension of hers.   Though I thought I was making my own choices, they were always the choices that Mom would have approved of.  I never realized that she had been doing the deciding for me.

This dependency grew worse and worse as I began to become more successful. Though I hadn’t actually lived with her since my thirties, I relied on her well into my late forties.  I called her five times a day, sometimes only to ask: “What do I do now?”  At that, she would laugh and make a suggestion.  Without questioning it, I would unhesitantly follow her suggestion.   It was as though I didn’t have a mind of my own — only somehow, I did  not know it.  

My mother died when I was fifty.  By that time, I had ascended to heights of success in the form of society that I call the Mainstream.  I was renting a luxurious room in a large mansion owned by one of many wealthy people for whom I was working. Though I rarely had to work more than twenty hours a week, I was nonetheless making $50,000 a year as a church musician, a music teacher at a private school, and a personal piano and voice teacher.  download

From the moment she died on October 9, 2003, till the moment I first became homeless on May 17, 2004, it was a downward plunge.  As I mentioned in the previous post, my psychiatrist had changed my anti-anxiety medication from Gabapentin to Klonopin on the morning of the day she was to die.  She then died in the afternoon, and I proceeded to have a first-time manic episode.  In a little over seven months, I lost all my jobs, my car, my living situation, and every penny of the $13,000 I had in the bank.

The moment she died, aided by the suppressive power of 6mg of Klonopin, I instantly blocked out every mental image of my mother.  I also immediately forgot every conversation she and I had ever had.  No longer able to call her five times a day, nor able to imagine how she might have directed me, I dispersed my many questions among my various associates.  I began to ask just about everybody, including total strangers, what I should do next.  Then, unquestioningly, I did what they suggested.  It is no wonder I lost my jobs!

My ability to perform in the Mainstream was entirely dependent upon my ability to interact with my mother.   The extent to which she valued personal security over personal freedom had left its mark.  But by the time I became homeless, I was thrust into a kind of liberation from all the icons of stability that the Mainstream had displayed.  But my liberation was tainted, because it lacked an internal association with my true identity.  My identity instead became further squashed and suppressed during twelve years of undignifying, degrading, demeaning homelessness.

So when was I actually liberated from the Mainstream?   It happened the moment I rose up from the prayer that I quoted in the previous entry.  At approximately midnight of an unknown date in July 2016, I fervently appealed to the Universe to put an end to twelve years of homelessness.  I made that appeal in the name of Jesus Christ.  When I rose up from my knees, I sensed something was very different.   I didn’t know it yet — but I was free at last.

Exactly how free, I will divulge in the seventh and final post of this series.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Five)

For the sake of new followers I gained shortly before my hiatus, I’ve been thinking to reiterate some themes that are essential to this blog.  But for the sake of my longtime readers, I want to be careful.   In approaching the tail end of the “Dangers of Liberation” series, I wish not to fall prey to repeat information.   I’ve told my story so many times, in so many ways — from so many different angles — that I fear losing some of those who have followed me regularly.   Hopefully, after the last three Thursday posts in this series, my fears will have proven unwarranted.

A particular sound often heard is that I ought to get over the homeless topic and resume writing on other themes about which I am passionate.   This kind of sound does resonate with me.   But I also need to fulfill something I started here.   Hopefully I can impress upon my more longstanding followers that this is not exactly “repeat information,” but the announcement or heralding of something completely new.

After all, isn’t this the essence of liberation?   It is the opposite of being locked into any kind of box.   So what exactly happened after the cacophony of disturbing, disparate events described in the previous post?   How did I get from a place of hurling vindictive curses at the Almighty, to a position of recognizing that He had responded to those prayers, despite my curse?

I mentioned that on June 24, 2016, I walked quietly out of the City of Berkeley without saying a word.   This was immediately after buying a refurbished computer at Bill’s Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue after receiving an advance on my social security check.   Given that I was essentially a marked man, and that the sight of me with a full backpack would indicate to any one of a number of thugs and gang bangers that there was no doubt a laptop inside that backpack, one might think I’d have left Berkeley first, and bought the computer later.  After all, I had had four laptops stolen in Berkeley in the past four years, two of them the result of strong-armed robbery.

But the fact was, Bill had been working on an old Dell Latitude, and he was about to give me a much better deal than I’d have gotten from a complete stranger.   Moreover, I would need as much money as possible to start an entirely new life, outside of Berkeley.

Image result for dell latitude e6430

So, computer in tow, I headed for a small, out-of-the-way city called Burlingame, and for the all-night Royal Donuts shop, where I had some fair standing in the view of the nice Malaysian people who rolled doughnuts all night long, singing songs in their traditional fashion.  Though I was very eager to begin notating all the music I had “written in my head” while walking about the Berkeley city streets, I was also aware that I had practical matters to consider.  I needed to get some kind of roof over my head in a community where homeless services were few and far between.

Long story short, I found a shelter in a nearby city.   I recall the rules being fairly regimented.   For example, all shelter residents were required to attend daily meetings of either Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.   I personally didn’t mind the meetings, because I have a reverence for the Twelve Steps and for that model of dealing with life’s difficulties.   But it was a red flag to find homelessness equated with drug addiction or alcoholism, as though those were the only reasons a person could have become homeless.   As one who was already painfully aware that most people in the San Francisco Bay Area were becoming homeless for socio-economic reasons entirely beyond their control, I found such stigma unsettling.

But there were some perks to being in the shelter.  I began working with a caseworker who rightly determined that the best thing for me would be to move to an entirely new State.   Then, as we began to work on this, I caught the flu.   Clearly, I had caught the flu from other residents in the male barracks who were coughing and sneezing throughout the night.  But the “mistake” I made was to let them know that I had the flu.  I went to the hospital, and came back with medical information.   When the people running the shelter learned of my medical diagnosis, their response was to kick me out of the shelter, lest I contaminate the other residents.

Something about this didn’t seem quite right.   For one thing, my immune system is such that I had only caught a flu twice in the past fifteen years, even though I had lived outdoors throughout most of that period of time.   That I had clearly caught the flu in the very shelter from which I was being expelled was obvious.

So I returned to the hospital in hopes of their letting me stay there.  But their reply was that they couldn’t make a special exemption for me being homeless, otherwise they would have to make exceptions for all homeless people, and the hospital would become overcrowded.  Standard procedure was to write “rest in bed for ten days” on the release form.  Of course, I did not have a bed.  But I couldn’t be made an exception — not in a part of the world where there are thousands of visible homeless people, night after night, lacking beds.

Next I tried the all-night bus that would run from Daly City to Palo Alto repeatedly.  This bus was a haven for sleeping homeless people who had nowhere else to go.  But when the homeless people saw me shivering and heard me sneezing, they too became concerned for their health.   The upshot was that the bus driver kicked me off of the bus, and I had now had literally no options but to suffer a flu of some 100+ degrees with no place to lay my head, except for outdoors in the elements.

It was then that I got on my knees.  Somehow, after twelve years of homelessness and borderline homelessness, it was catching a flu and being denied an indoor bed to rest in and to recuperate, due to no factor other than homelessness, that finally got to me.

I will never forget the exact words to the prayer that I prayed.   Just after midnight on  July 17, 2016,  I hit my knees so hard on the pavement outside of the Sequoia Station in Redwood City, California, I compounded illness with injury in order to scream these words:

God!!
If there is Anybody out there,
I don’t care Who you are,
or what your Name is,
if you can feel me,
where I’m coming from, please —
I do not care about drug addiction
or alcoholism,
or mental illness,
or being a lazy bum
or a slacker or a slouch –
I care about Homelessness!
Please put an END
to twelve years of totally unpredictable,
totally unreliable,
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN,
ANYTIME ANYWHERE
HOMELESSNESS!!!
In the name of Jesus Christ I pray –
AMEN!!!!

One might argue the theological validity of a prayer worded in such a haphazard fashion – or even its internal logical consistency, for that matter.  Such discussions would be another story altogether.  What is critical here, from the standpoint of Homeless Rights Activism, is that it was the first time I had actually offered the heavens a petition with respect to homelessness itself, and not to all these other stigmatic things that are so often attached to that label.

Mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction and laziness are not identical to homelessness.   But, much as I despised the stigma that was often thrown my way — even to the insistence that, as a homeless person, I needed to attend A.A. or N.A. meetings in order to sustain residence in a shelter — I myself suffered from the same stigmatic assaults on my identity.   My true identity, as the sociologist Erving Goffman framed it, was “spoiled” by perceptions people have toward the homeless.

Stigma Quotes. QuotesGram

Had this not been the case, I’d have certainly found within me the power or presence of mind to have prayed such a prayer long ago.   In fact, the practical wisdom of leaving the State of California and the San Francisco Bay Area in particular had been offered me by friends whom I knew from the Internet as early as 2004 — when I was first becoming homeless.   But I did not have the ears to listen.

I did not have the ears to hear the fullness of the fact that my problem — far and away more serious than any of its associated labels — was homelessness.   I had basically bought into all the very lies that I disdained.

That, above all things, is what kept me homeless for all those years.  I saw the contradictory nature of what it was assumed I must be.   I saw the ridiculous horrors of myself and others being treated as criminals, our true stories disbelieved by authority figures.  I felt the frustration we all felt when having to face such demeaning treatment.   But still, I hung on to the false notion that there must have been something about me that was innately flawed in such a way that I would never warrant a normal, self-respecting living situation such as even thieves and criminals are able to secure in our society.  I never fully allowed the truth about homelessness to enter my heart.

Why not?

The short, simple answer would be low self esteem.  That, combined with a certain measure of social indoctrination.  When one hears something about oneself repeatedly, by people who appear to be in authority, one eventually begins to believe it.

But there’s a deeper answer than this.   The dynamic of believing what one is told about oneself is most common when one is a child.   In such a case, the looming figures of authority are one’s parents.   Though my father had been dead since 1985, and my mother more recently deceased, they still remained the original authorities, exerting their influence upon me even as they tried to steer me away from dangerous behavior.

My mother died on October 9, 2003.   That morning, I had beseeched Kaiser Redwood City to put me back on a medication called Klonopin, being as the past three years under the medication Gabapentin had been extremely challenging for me.    While it is true that the combination of the med switch and my mother’s death triggered what psychiatry calls a “first time manic episode,” and it is true that I lost a $50,000 annual income, a home, a car, and all my professional accounts in the process, there is a deeper truth at work here.

The full extent to which my relationship with my mother ensured on a daily basis the type of sanity I needed to function in the workaday world of the Mainstream was something I was not to grasp until years later.   Essentially, hearing of her death so soon after many of my senses were being dulled by 6mg/day of a powerful sedative — the highest legal dosage at the time — resulted in my blocking out the feeling of every interaction I had ever known with the person with whom I was undoubtedly the closest.

Like the motherless child whom I was, I then began to seek her guidance and comfort through the many disparate, detached figures of authority whom I soon found in the vast cosmic orphanage that is Homelessness.   The horrible degree to which her nurturing love was cloned by the callous manipulations of an impassive band of power-hungry scoundrels was something I would have to face fully, were I ever to come to know the true identity of my actual enemy in life.

The manner in which my mother represented the Mainstream needed to be understood and embraced in completion, if I were ever to succeed in crafting a life free of her restrictions, and full of the independent identity that is mine and mine alone.

It will take me two more posts to drive the point home.

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Four)

This is the fourth in a seven-part series I am posting on consecutive Thursdays.  Though the series is only quasi-chronological, I urge you to leaf through the first three first.  

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Drawing by Granger

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard referred to the moment, not as “an atom of time,” but as an “atom of eternity.”  That’s how the moment of August 8, 2006 felt.  One might say that time stood still at that moment, and I had a glimpse of the eternal bliss we might experience in heaven.

This is one reason why I framed this series as I did.   A chronological order of events would not be as meaningful as a spiritual progression, which in a way defies time.  My first day of homelessness was not August 8, 2006 — it was May 17, 2004.  But the night of May 17, 2004 was a night of fright and awful uncertainty, afraid to make myself prone on a bench at the Burlingame CalTrain station, but sitting up all night, nodding off periodically, and watching for cops all the while.

By contrast, the event of August 8, 2006 was one of momentary ecstasy, but where did that moment lead?  Down the tubes fairly quickly, as I recall.  Its memory, however, did not fade.

That memory was in fact felt in retrospect.  For on March 19, 2004, I took a look at my badly beaten car, its front end crunched like an accordion.   As I discovered the freedom of public transportation, of leaving the driving to those more capable than myself, I was granted a foreshadow of the more complete liberation I would know two years in the future.

The horror that marked my final three years in Berkeley was also foretold.  It wasn’t until June 24, 2013 that I first found myself pistol-whipped, as I watched a pair of young hooligans making off with my laptop.   But on some unknown date back in June of 2004, I had known a much more serious violation, of the kind that in civil society it is not thought proper to discuss.

The complex confluence of incongruous influences that comprised the conditions of homelessness was never considered a drain or an overload, in the way that the Mainstream had been.  The overload of the Mainstream was death to my soul. But all the excesses of stimuli that combined to create the Homeless Adventure were health to my spirit, and marrow to my bones.

“Naked I am!” I shouted.  “I am stripped of all I have ever thought I would be!  I have made myself naked and vulnerable in the face of a fully mercurial and often hostile Universe!”

I saw all my possessions be burned to bits before my eyes, the act of an unfeeling young juggaloe who hadn’t slept in days.   I was hurled to the ground by deluded gangbangers, shouting “I’m going to kill you White Motherf—-r!” — as they hit me again and again with the barrels of their guns, on the head I had bowed before them.

Yet through all these atrocities, I found it in myself to sleep on my back without bedroll in a thunderstorm, exerting pelvic thrusts in the direction of the full moon, and reveling.

“Bring it on!” I screamed.  “I want more!  I want more!!”

Then, getting up, fully clad and with shoes on — (for I always slept in shoes, so as to be ready) — I suddenly shivered.   So what did I do?   Of course, I ran as far as I could, as fast as I could, till I warmed.

When the sun shone, and the daylight burned, I walked about the City of Berkeley and composed music in protest, having not paper nor pen, neither software, nor laptop, no possessions at all, save the clothes on my back.

“Bop bop bop!” came the singing of the melodies.   My weathered trousers were as sets of drums.   Keyboards and electric guitars anointed the air, while passersby mocked and mimicked me, shouting: “Shut the f—k up!”  Meanwhile, seemingly unbeknowst to them, I composed the score to Eden in Babylon— to my proud estimation, the finest music I have written thus far, to date — in the timeless spool of life.

“That’s your whole problem!” my naysayers chided.  “You think that your music is more important than God.”

“Ah but no,” I replied.  “It’s your problem.  You think that your Mainstream is God.”

There was nothing Mainstream about the Uniqueness that was Homelessness in Berkeley.  So for all of the fears, the highs, and the rages, it yet remained sacred — to me.

“How do we get inside again?” my friend Jerome had earlier queried.   “How do we get back inside, and yet not get sucked back into the Mainstream?”

In search of answer, I shouted at the Most High in outrage.

“WHY am I hanging around pimps and hookers and drug dealers and thieves and criminals and hustlers and panhandlers?   WHY am I not among Artists and Writers and Musicians and Actors and Directors — and people more like myself!?  I know — I know — these are the people whom JESUS hung out with!   But I’m NOT JESUS!!! I’m NOT JESUS!!  I’m only f—ing human!!!  Give me a god-d—–d break!!!!”

Many times did I scream to the God of my youth.  Many times someone screamed back at me: “Would you just shut the f—-k up?!”

Then came the terrifying threats of the night.  “This guy,” said a jealous man, pointing my way, “is not going to live much longer.”

“You know what?” I told myself.  “He’s probably right.”

So on June 24, 2016, exactly three years after the first of a series of violent assaults against my person, I went down to Bill’s Computer Store on Shattuck Avenue, bought myself a refurbished Dell laptop with my government check, and walked quietly away from the City of Berkeley without saying a word.

God then proceeded to answer every prayer I had hurled toward Him, facing His Infinite Love with hatred and vitriol.   He answered those prayers sevenfold, nay — seventy times sevenfold — in spades.   And He provided a way for me to live inside without getting sucked back into the evils of the Mainstream.   In so doing, He showed me the hugeness of His unfathomable, unconditional love.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Three)

It would be tempting for me to recount just about everything that took place between August 12, 2006 and April 15, 2011.   But that would be a story in itself — perhaps even a novel or a book.   Suffice it to say that my travels during that period of time were extremely disjointed.   They represented the trek of a man who, having already realized that the Mainstream held nothing for him, nevertheless engaged himself in a five year plan of pointless futility, hanging on to the remnants of a former Mainstream identity.  To everyone in my path, this leg of my journey appeared to be nothing other than a poisonous mixture of insanity and instability.   I bounced from Lodi to Redwood City to Stockton, back to Redwood City, up to Oakland, and back to Stockton, with frenetic periods in between where I could claim no single city as my own.  "BenjaminAlways, I was haunted by the lure of Berkeley and its particularly special brand of homelessness.  Having tasted of that heavenly fruit, there was no way I could return to anything like my former system of values without incurring disaster.  Berkeley loomed as though a Mecca for all who had embraced this unusual consciousness.  In fact, prior to the momentous event of August 8, 2006, there was even a previous moment in the Fall of 2005 that served as a kind of prophecy of unknown times to come.   Someone had driven me to visit my daughter where she was working at the Jamba Juice on Bancroft, and as I stepped out of the car, I suddenly found myself  lifting up my hands in a spontaneous gesture of amazement, shouting: “Berkeley!   This is where I’ve got to be!”

To this day, I have no idea what prompted that outburst.  Something in the air of this peculiar city had caught my attention in a way that no other place ever had.   And then, there was the mysterious revelation of 2006, followed by the tortuous premature application of that epiphany in the next three days, prompting a five year disappearance into failed jobs, shelters, residence hotels, and psych wards, until at last, on April 15, 2011, I gave up the ghost.

On that day, I took $40, left the last of a series of untenable living situations, got on an AmTrak, and alighted once again on the City of Berkeley, this time with the full intent of my heart.

That night I hooked up with a fellow named Sydney, sold my cell phone for a blanket, and the two of us slept in a corridor near the U.C. campus.  Far from the earlier disorientation, I now found myself guided, as if by an unseen hand, to every resource for the homeless that the city had to offer.  It was at that time that I also was directed to numerous other homeless men and women whom I discovered to be very much like myself.   All of them shared a similar story of having been “liberated” from an evil form of bondage that we called the Mainstream.

One of these was a tall African-American man named Jerome.  For the first five days of my intentional homelessness, I chatted with him at Starbucks.  He was well-dressed — as was I — and it took five days before either of us discovered the other was homeless.  At that, we decided to camp out together.  (There’s safety, after all, in numbers.)

“Here’s the challenge,” Jerome said one night.  “How do get inside again without getting sucked back into the Mainstream?”

“That is indeed the challenge,” I replied.

Then there was silence.

There are many levels to liberation.  As I wrote in Part Two of this series, one is not just liberated from something.   One is liberated into something.   And that something might just morph into an ogre as forbidding as that from which one had been released in the first place.

For my part, there is no true liberation, unless one is liberated into Christ.   “If you make my Word your home,” said Jesus, “you will indeed be my disciples.  You will learn the truth — and the truth will make  you free.”  

When one has found a home, one needs to maintain it.  Otherwise one will have a home no longer.   Even the freedom that there is in Christ is not an absolute arrival.   To what extent I had found liberation it now needed to be tilled like a garden.  Otherwise, it would morph into a beast as threatening as the Mainstream from which I first fled.

For better or worse, that is what happened with homelessness.  It developed into a world of its own, with rules of its own, many of them tacitly acknowledged — unwritten and unspoken, yet real.   And those rules bespoke betrayal, vengeance, and death.

Though the first months of homelessness in Berkeley were little short of blissful, even on into the second year, eventually my old enemy reared his head, though in a different and far more frightening form.   Just how bad it got, it will disturb me greatly to tell.  But I’ll tell it, as cogently as I can, in Part Four.

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Dangers of Liberation (Part Two)

This post is a sequel to Dangers of Liberation (Part One).  I strongly urge you to read it first, if you want to get the most out of this one.   

I am not the only person who has had an experience like the one described in the first post of this series.  After the unbelievable epiphany of August 8, 2006, I was later to be drawn toward a number of individuals who reported a very similar event.  The problem, however, is that the information received in that moment was processed prematurely, in a mind that was unready for so radical a change.   So I didn’t encounter the others till about five years later.  

Liberation is a two-way street.  It’s not just that someone finds themselves released from a form of inner bondage or imprisonment.  When one is liberated, they are released into a new realm.   The nature of that realm is of extreme significance.   We are not only liberated from.  We are liberated into.  

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all ...

This raises a couple questions. From what sort of inner prison were we released?  Essentially, it was a conglomerate of rules, customs, social mores, status symbols, contracts, hierarchies, schedules, regimens, routines and protocols that ran contrary to our natural God-given design and character.  For lack of a better word, I and others called this conglomerate the Mainstream.   It was a stifling force, the Mainstream, whose role was to quench the spirit.  

To what sort of freedom were we liberated?  To freedom from the outmoded rules of a former day.  From customs by which we could no longer abide.  From social mores that bespoke hypocrisy, status symbols we no longer possessed, contracts severed, hierarchies violated, schedules disregarded, regimens rejected, routines discarded, and protocols exposed.   Where could we find such freedom?

Only in homelessness.  Everything else reflected a Mainstream that never served our true natures, and from which we were eventually severed.

It took five hard years for me to find the others who shared this unusual gift.  For in the days that followed that moment of bliss, I struggled to process the strange twists and turns that came of outdoor living.  I learned, for one thing, that a person doesn’t just walk into a shelter and expect to be served.  There was an application process, and a long waiting line, before one could be granted a bed.   So for three days I struggled to manage, with no money, no roof over my head, stuck and stranded in a strange town called Berkeley.

By the third day, my thinking was very much awry.  I got in with the wrong crowd, and long story short, found myself running from would-be assailants.   Though I believe I eluded the two young rapscallions, I was by that time completely spent.  In desperation, I flagged down a police car and beseeched them for help.   Discerning my mania, the officers had no problem escorting me to the place where they felt I belonged.

So on August 11, 2006, I sat in the John George Psychiatric Pavilion, having persuaded myself and others that my issue was merely one of untreated bipolar disorder.  The entire memory of a momentary freedom now paled in the wake of a serious disease.  In that downtrodden state, I permitted the clinicians to diagnose my liberation, and prescribe me the mood stabilizer Depakote.   After a single night’s stay in the psych ward, my thinking was clear enough to steer me toward a $50 PayPal loan from a friend in Las Vegas, a one-way Greyhound ticket to a small town in the Valley, a shelter, a clinic, and a cheap residence hotel.  

“I must have been out of my mind!” I told myself.  And then, for five years, I followed the guidelines of a Mainstream I’d already rejected in my heart.

It was not until April 15, 2011, that I took the next plunge into the realm where the memory of a transcendent event had informed my true spirit.   On that day, I took $40, left the last of a series of untenable living situations, hopped on an AmTrak, alighted upon the City of Berkeley once again, and proceeded to become Homeless by Choice.  

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Dangers of Liberation (Part One)

This post was lifted from its original manifestation of approximately one year ago.  I didn’t feel ready at that time to produce the next four parts of the series.  I do now.  

On August 8, 2006, I sat at the corner of Shattuck and Kitteredge in Berkeley, California, three blocks North of the Royal Grounds Cafe, where I had just spent my last two dollars on coffee.   

I had walked back and forth, to and fro, not knowing where I was going.  It gradually dawned on me that I had nowhere left to go.  I had spent my entire severance check after leaving my summer job as a singing teacher with Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose.  I had spent it all on taxicabs, meals in restaurants, and motel rooms.   So I sat down, expecting to enter into total misery.  Instead, I entered into total bliss.

Mihai Eminescu Quote: “I understand that a man can have everything having nothing and nothing ...

I finally had nothing.  Nothing to prove anymore.  Nothing to hold on to.  Nothing to need to protect or salvage or horde.  Nothing that could be coveted or stolen.  Nothing that I needed to accomplish or achieve.   

And in having nothing, I realized that I was open to everything.  In an instant, everything that the Universe had to offer came soaring into my consciousness.  All the gifts of life — the very gifts that my worldly concerns had blinded me from seeing — were now not only visible, but tangible, accessible, and omnipresent.  

I found paper and pen, and I wrote down these words:

I have indeed hit bottom.
And at the moment when I reached my bottom,
I realized that I had reached the very top.
At that moment, I was Buddha.

While this surprising sense of liberation was very real, and while it was destined to impact me for years to come, its accompanying bliss was short-lived.  Within three days, I was to see its downside in a dramatic way.   And the bittersweet dynamic thereof informed my later thought.

So I’ve decided to use the next several Thursdays to post my thoughts on this theme as best I can.   There are distinct dangers involved when one permits oneself to receive gifts of joy and happiness from sources commonly associated with misery and despair.  I’ll do my best to illustrate what the years following that experience have held for me.  Hopefully, I can do so with clarity.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
A little bit goes a long, long way.

 

Dangers of Liberation: Part One

On August 8, 2006, I sat at the corner of Shattuck and Kitteredge in Berkeley, California, three blocks North of the Royal Grounds Cafe, where I had just spent my last two dollars on coffee.   

I had walked back and forth, to and fro, not knowing where I was going.  It gradually dawned on me that I had nowhere left to go.  I had spent my entire severance check after leaving my summer job as a singing teacher with Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose.  I had spent it all on taxicabs, meals in restaurants, and motel rooms.   So I sat down, expecting to enter into total misery.  Instead, I entered into total bliss.

Image result for i understand that a man can have everything having nothing

I finally had nothing.  Nothing to prove anymore.  Nothing to hold on to.  Nothing to need to protect or salvage or horde.  Nothing that could be coveted or stolen.  Nothing that I needed to accomplish or achieve.   

And in having nothing, I realized that I was open to everything.  In an instant, everything that the Universe had to offer came soaring into my consciousness.  All the gifts of life — the very gifts that my worldly concerns had blinded me from seeing — were now not only visible, but tangible, accessible, and omnipresent.  

I found paper and pen, and I wrote down these words:

I have indeed hit bottom.
And at the moment when I reached my bottom,
I realized that I had reached the very top.
At that moment, I was Buddha.

While this surprising sense of liberation was very real, and while it was destined to impact me for years to come, its accompanying bliss was short-lived.  Within three days, I was to see its downside in a dramatic way.   And the bittersweet dynamic thereof informed my later thought.

So I’ve decided to use the next several Thursdays to post my thoughts on this theme as best I can.   There are distinct dangers involved when one permits oneself to receive gifts of joy and happiness from sources commonly associated with misery and despair.  I’ll do my best to illustrate what the years following that experience have held for me.  Hopefully, I can do so with clarity.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
A little bit goes a long, long way.

 

Homeless by Choice

On the Q&A site Quora, dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge by those “in the know,” I was asked if I thought there was anything wrong with being “homeless by choice.”  Here’s my answer:

There is nothing morally wrong with being homeless by choice. One has a right to do whatever they wish to do as long as it does not impinge upon the rights of others. Therefore, if one wants to be homeless, and one is not harming anyone in the process, one can rightly exercise that choice.

However, this does beg the question as to why one would want to be homeless by choice; and in fact, if one choosing to be homeless is actually choosing a preferred lifestyle, or merely the lesser of evils in an untenable situation.

home sweet homelessThere are three general reasons why one would “choose” being homeless over an indoor living situation:

(1) lack of privacy in the indoor situation

(2) abuse or neglect in the indoor situation

(3) inability to keep up with the cost of living indoors

I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years.  As I stated in this post, I often had a difficult time with shelters and other group situations due to the lack of privacy. I also found it next-to-impossible to keep up with the rising cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The trade-off was made palatable due to my not having to pay exorbitant rental fees, often subjected to rent increases every six months.

Although I personally would not have characterized any of my living situations as “abusive,” I certainly have met numerous people, mostly young people, who chose to live “home free” following emancipation from abusive parents or guardians. To many of them, the idea of living indoors was associated with bondage, violence, and sexual violation. Of course they should not be faulted for wishing to escape such horrible home lives. This is why many such young people will not use the term “homeless” to describe their lifestyle. They prefer the term “home free” — and this is telling.

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