Handling Homelessness

The question was posed on Quora as to whether one felt one could “handle” a week of homelessness.  Here’s my answer.   

Being as I handled about twelve years of it, you’d think my answer would be “yes.” But having lived indoors for almost two years now in very favorable situations (first alone, then with a congenial partner), I would have to say that I honestly don’t know.

I feel as though I’ve been pampered by all the convenient luxuries of indoor living. I’ve been spoiled for so long that I’ve gotten soft.  At this point, I can’t claim that I could go back and handle even a single day of homelessness — let alone an entire week, let alone twelve years.

You see, things are different for me now internally than they were in the days when I successfully “handled” being homeless. Back then, I handled homelessness on the basis of believing that there was no way out. For the first two or three years, I kept looking for a way out, and not finding it.

homeless for a weekThen one day I had a revelation. I realized that I needed to embrace homelessness completely and learn how to deal with it on its own terms. Those terms included a silent hustle for day-to-day survival that easily consumed more than forty hours each week — in other words, the time consumption of a full time job. So I gave myself to the homeless experience, and I prided myself on how well I was handling it. But I did so in the spirit of believing that I had no other choice.

Now, however, I know that I do have a choice. That’s why I said that things are different for me internally than they were back then.  Now that I know for sure that there is more for me in life than to remain homeless for the rest of my days, I honestly don’t know that I could ever tolerate being homeless again. I wouldn’t be able to just shrug my shoulders and resign myself to its misery, like I used to. I would know that there was a way out, and I would actively seek that way out from the get-go, possibly to the exclusion of being willing or able to tolerate the homeless experience at all.

And there is, by the way, a way out. I am living proof of this. The way out may differ from one person to the next, but I can tell you for sure that there is a way. As I’ve shared here before, I was absolutely certain that I was going to be homeless for the rest of my days, and that I would die a meaningless death in a city gutter. That this did not happen, and I instead am poised to write these words meaningfully today, is not only a miracle in my own life experience, but a sign of hope for anyone facing homelessness at any level, for any reason.

So, while my honest answer to this question would have to be, “I don’t know,” it does lead to an interesting theme. Life is meant to be lived, to be fully embraced and received for everything that it is and possibly can be. Too often we consider our days to be drudgery and tedium, a general drain on our psychic reserves. I was only able to handle homelessness by embracing it completely. To be honest with you, it’s the way that I handle my present life of highly favorable indoor living, conducive in every way to the ongoing production of my creative work.

My years of homelessness have changed me completely. To my own estimation, I am a much more principled, purpose-driven individual than I ever was before I first became homeless in the year 2004. One way that I have changed is that I no longer see life as an aimless, shiftless shuffle, the way it seemed for so many years before. Life is this amazing gift from unspeakable, invisible life-giving dimensions far beyond our capabilities of human comprehension. As such, all life, whether homeless or sheltered, or on the battlefields for that matter, calls out to be appreciated as the incredibly colorful and fascinating mystery that it is.

So I think that in general, we need to escape the mentality of life being drudgery, something we can at best hope to “handle” or “survive.” Even homelessness was no longer misery, once it had been embraced. My choice right now is to embrace indoor living, with all its unprecedented benefits. If that choice ever changes, given all I have just said, I’m sure you’ll be among the first to know.

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A Meaningful Life

I just received a forward of a letter of appreciation that someone sent to Terry Messman, the publisher of Street Spirit, with regards to a previous article of mine he had published.   I deduced that it must have been the August article, based on the context:

Hi Terry,

I just wanted to say that I was really moved by a recent piece by Andy Pope (unsure of which volume, but it was from several months ago). His writing really helped me understand what it’s like to be in his shoes, day by day. I also felt incredibly sad reading it. I wish that I could offer someone like Andy a place to stay.

I’m also curious about your fundraiser, and if . . . .

Alison

Upon reading those words, I felt a poignant surge of pathos.   I did not need a place to stay at the time the article was published.  I wrote that piece in June of 2016.  It wasn’t published until August 2017 — long after I’d succeeded in getting myself indoors.  So it felt somehow wrong that someone should be thinking of offering me one.  

At the same time, however, this is the point of its having been published in the first place.   When I wrote it, I was fortunate enough to have gained a seat for me and my laptop in a Starbucks on a rainy Sunday morning.   I had been living outdoors for so many years that the idea of ever actually attaining to an indoor dwelling place again seemed inconceivable.  It was that sense of resignation to the complete unpredictability of the homeless condition that gave the piece its purpose.  It was written by a homeless person while homeless, and thus filtered out nothing of the very present feelings so painfully described therein.

This also served to remind me that my life has meaning.  I had always fancied myself something of a Writer, even as I wrote frivolous bagatelles to pass the time away while bored.  I wrote pieces of garbage that I knew to be garbage, only because my nervous need to engage myself in such intellectual thumb-twiddling was so pressing in my restless mind.  But now I have been granted this great gift of experience, and not only of experience itself, but of the subsequent freedom to actually sit down and write about it.  This is something I never dreamed I would gain.  I, like almost everyone else I knew, had consigned myself to die a miserable, meaningless death on the streets.

Not two years have passed since I penned those words sitting in that Starbucks, grimly watching the sun make an effort to reveal itself from amid an early morning cloudburst.   Thankful was I indeed, as I’d have been on any other rainy morning, to have gotten out of the homeless rain.  But at the same time, how completely cynical I was that after all those years, I would ever manage to get myself into a decent, dignified living situation again!

Kate in Cabin
A Decent, Dignified Living Situation — for Me.  

I had been so happy to have landed the simple hole-in-the-wall that I found at Friendship Square, almost an entire year went by before I could even grasp the concept that there might be a better place in store for me.   This adds to the pathos.  For so many years, I prayed specifically that I would one day be given “a lock on a door, a window, and a power outlet. ”   That  wish having been granted so dramatically, I sincerely felt like an ingrate when I began to look for a more suitable living situation.   After all, God had answered that prayer pretty much down to the letter.  I received exactly one window, two power outlets, and three locks on my door.   (God apparently knew which of the three priorities was most important to me!)

Eventually, however, it reached the unpleasant stage where not even three locks could do the trick.  I would surface from fitful sleep in the wee hours, only to hear the ribald congregating of drug-addicted young men out in the hallway.  Then, I would presume in my half-awake state that I still slept outdoors, and that these other fellows must have been outdoors, as well.

“Where am I? Who are these people?  Are they coming to steal my stuff?  Or did I steal their Spot by mistake?   Or are these the security guards, or maybe even the property owners?  Damn!  I better get out of here!”

But then, a few seconds would pass, and slowly the details of reality would sink in.  I was in no immediate danger.  The voices I heard, though they seemed intrusive, were actually separated from me by the three locks on my very own door.   And yet – why could I not sleep for the evidence of their presence?   Could I honestly be that traumatized?   Could I not separate the aggressive energy of my new neighbors from that of space invaders of times past?  My pastor literally had to persuade me that the little hole-in-the-wall was not the be-all-and-end-all to my life’s experience.   I did not need to live among practicing thieves and drug addicts if I did not want to.   

It was hard to leave Friendship Square without feeling like an ingrate.  But that is exactly what I have done.   It’s costing me a bit more money than I can comfortably squeeze out at the moment, but the trade-off is well worth it.  For the past two nights, I have slept soundly and peacefully in my new secluded apartment, far removed from the downtown denizens, and all the constant raucous activity that I so easily overlooked in my earlier elation over having landed any kind of indoor place of residence at all.  And you know what?  The moment I set my laptop down on that dining room table, I felt instantly more focused than I have felt for months.  Surely now I have everything I need!   I have my own bathtub even.  And a dishwasher.   A medicine cabinet in which to store hygienic needs.  My own bedroom.   A living room.   My daughter can even comfortably come visit me now.  Do I deserve this?  Honestly – it is almost too good to be true.

Well – I suppose whether I “deserve” it or not is immaterial.  At best, it would lead to pointless theological debate.   For me, the purpose of the gift is to put it to use.  I am going to set myself down in this seclusion, and write write Write Write WRITE —  because now I have something to write about.   And not only that – but a place to do it from.   So do me a favor.   Don’t ever let me forget how huge this is.   

On the streets, I would have died a meaningless death.  Here, far away from the streets — in distance, if not in memory — I have been granted a meaningful life.   

Please help raise awareness as to the Homeless Phenomenon in America.
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